The Loop Lab to Open in Central Square This Fall

The Loop LabChristopher Hope. Photo by Sasha Pedro.

A music and podcast recording studio opening this fall will provide a space for underserved young people in the Port neighborhood to learn about sound engineering, music production, and workforce development.

Christopher Hope started working with young people from the Port area while he was a student at Harvard’s divinity school, and soon discovered how important music was to many of the people he met.

“A big part of my job was reaching out to young adults that were at risk,” Hope says. “One thing that I noticed was that a great way to relate with that age group was through music. Oftentimes when you’re working with young adults, there’s suspicion—is this guy working for the police? But when they found out that I made music also, that I’m an artist, that I rap, that I also produce, I actually shared my music with some individuals, actually would produce music for them, when I found out that they also made music, it just opened up a relationship, it opened up a mentorship.”

Hope met Lillian Hsu, director of public art and exhibitions at the Cambridge Arts Council, in late 2016, and the two brainstormed ways to connect the Port neighborhood’s urban youth with the surrounding booming technology environment.

“[We tried to] find out if there’s a way to really bridge the gap between these urban youths and the digital economy that surrounds them, because oftentimes these individuals are enclosed by Kendall Square, by MIT, by Harvard, but they don’t necessarily have access,” Hope says.

The product is a six-month workforce development program focused on music production and sound engineering where they will learn both the hard and soft skills necessary to be competitive in Cambridge’s job market.

There will be monthly training modules on subjects like budgeting. Students will also learn conflict mediation techniques and how to respond to a stabbing with CPR and first aid.

“We’re trying to really change the narrative of the way that we connect with urban youths by operating at the intersection of sound and technology, by providing young people from underrepresented backgrounds with the tools to express themselves creatively while providing them with an on-ramp to the digital economy,” Hope says.

The Loop Lab has partnered with WBUR for a corporate internship program following the six-month program, so that students can get real-world experience. The partnership also lets the Loop Lab learn what skills are most relevant for students. The Loop Lab internships at WBUR will be paid, addressing a common barrier for lower-income people navigating the sea of unpaid media internships.

The program will accept six students for each six-month cycle. The founders are looking for people between the ages of 18 and 26 who live in the Port neighborhood and have graduated high school.

The Loop Lab will be built out this summer at 872 Massachusetts Ave. It was important to Hope that the studio be local.

“We’d really love to challenge the notion of these young adults as to what is possible,” Hope says. “They pass by Kendall, they pass by Google, they pass by some of these companies and there’s no connection. It might as well be a whole, completely different city. They don’t necessarily see their life or their career ending up in Kendall, and so I think this will work to bridge the gap and also push open the glass door.”

Tyrie Daniel, 26, will be the Loop Lab’s first student. Hope is Daniel’s mentor, and asked him to provide input as the project gets off the ground. Daniel explains that he has advised the founders on how to best communicate with young people in the neighborhood and the importance of taking their input into account.

Daniel has long been interested in music and has recently gotten into podcasts, he says.

“I was adding my input, from a perspective of inner-city youths and my experience in the city, seeing everything going on around me without me being accepted,” Daniel says. “I felt like everything around me was getting done, and I was constantly getting pushed to the side, with rents rising higher than I could afford or even my parents could afford. These companies are coming in, they’re supplying jobs, but me not being in college, I didn’t reach any of the requirements when I looked online to apply.”

The Loop Lab will meet the city’s young people at a time when help from the city dwindles, according to Hsu.

“The city services are decreasing once a young person is out of high school,” Hsu says. “So if a young person comes out of high school and does not happen to choose the college track at that time, then there are fewer services and there are even fewer opportunities for internships, because some companies and organizations are going, for their interns, to matriculated students in the area colleges, so they miss out on that opportunity.”

Hope says that once the Loop Lab is up and running he hopes to develop further programming in the studio, including a mentorship initiative for girls between the ages of 12 and 18 and low-cost classes on subjects like recording basics that would be open to the public.

This story appeared in the Do Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription. A previous version of this article was published online on Dec. 5, 2017.

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