Written by Perry Kin
The non-profit makerspace, founded in 2015, provides high tech tools so that people young and old can learn from — including robotics, 3D printers and the like. With programs for children and adults alike, and bootcamps and workshops available for varying skill levels, STEAMLabs wants to instill an inventor’s mindset into each of its students — to become inventors and creators in a continuously changing world.
So, it makes sense when Forest, who founded the space with his wife Marianne Mader, says that the A, the arts, is as essential to STEAMLabs’ identity as anything else. Having a lab that encourages creativity can have real world benefits.
“That engineering implementation of those concepts and turns it into innovation instead of just implementing some kind of solution that someone else designs,” explains Forest, who is a long-time entrepreneur.
“Adding in the arts makes it creative expression and problem solving and communication that is essential to making (learning) something to solve problems in the world instead of making a valve (for example) that somebody told you to design.”
A STEAMLab education begins with ideas, and the intent is to deliver those ideas into a “digital fabrication,” says Forest, one that sets out technical parameters and uses three principal tools — 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC routers — to make creations and learn technical skills along the way.
“The STEAMLabs community is built on principles of inclusiveness by dedicated caring people of diverse backgrounds who work together in a safe environment to imagine, collaborate, create, design and make interesting things,” said Mader, an astrophysicist who works at the Royal Ontario Museum.
“I love that STEAMLabs is not only am amazing facility with community tools, but a place to meet, socialize and collaborate.”
And regular ideas are put to action directly. A gardener made a planter for her garden (with built-in lights) and, recently, another student made a lighting fixture, based on the television show Stranger Things, for a Halloween party — with flashing lights that responded to text messages.
“She felt so competent and proud of this thing she conceived of and built with her own skills she learned in five weeks,” said Forest.
STEAMLabs is a well oiled machine, serving hundreds of adults and children since it began. They have found a way to make the space accessible to amateurs and diverse communities, and have given adults with little to no experience in tech an option to consider when expanding their skill sets.
With the help of a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, they were able to purchase more equipment, including that CNC router for woodworking.
As husband and wife, and as business partners, Mader and Forest have a healthy but unique dynamic. Mader sits on the company’s board of directors and Forest, as executive director, handles the day-to-day affairs. They “share a brain” as people who care passionately about STEM education, says Forest, and home and work life can overlap quite a bit.
“We don't turn off our idea discussions when we get home at the end of the day — our long weekend walks in the park with our toddler is often our best brainstorming sessions!” added Mader.
But it works, and STEAMLabs’ foothold in Toronto is strong — they make tools available at the Toronto Tool Library and collaborate with other makers, including the Mozilla Hive Network and the Ultimate Workshop (who focus on metalworking).
It is a pursuit, says Forest, that makes it about creating stronger digital citizens who can actively provide solutions for a quickly changing world.
“We just help people to invent the future,” says Forest. “We’re really about not just giving people the skills but also the critical thinking and analysis and logic to recognize challenges in their lives and the world around them.”
Photo Credits: Andrew Williamson Photography