There’s a feeling of excitement, romance and festiveness when you go to an event created by Mollie Windmiller and Jessica Moriarty. You enter an old building through a historic alleyway off Loring Park. You’re welcomed into a big, open, photo-shoot-ready, industrial-chic room with concrete floors, high ceilings, white walls and skylights. It’s glowing with candlelight, with bites of food on a sideboard, music on the sound system, fresh flower arrangements and precisely beautiful place settings on the long pine plank tables. But it’s not a wedding reception. It’s a calligraphy class. Or it might be a course on watercolors, weaving or leatherworking. Or a business seminar on search engine optimization, media relations or accounting best practices.
Welcome to LAB, a hip, urban, Instagram-ready alternative to continuing education courses, professional development seminars or craft classes.
Moriarty and Windmiller, two 30-something entrepreneurs from Minneapolis, started their business curating creative workshops for the public four years ago.
They created the space, and they find expert instructors and assemble materials. Students come away with a tote bag full of tools, the beginnings of a new creative project and a feeling that they’ve done more than learn a new skill. They’ve been to an event.
Moriarty and Windmiller say the workshops are intended to be a hands-on, in-person, collaborative experience in an age when a lot of DIY learning is achieved through watching YouTube how-to videos.
“You’re getting away from your Pinterest board,” Windmiller says.
But the workshops have attracted lots of millennial clients because the classes are also designed to be live social media experiences.
“It’s an event that’s Instagram worthy,” Moriarty says.
In fact, the LAB founders designate a custom hashtag for each course and hold a contest among participants to see who can come up with the best Instagram image at the end of the 2 ½-hour workshop.
“We want this to feel special. It’s a special event that you’re going to,” Moriarty says.
“Millennials don’t want a community education class. Millennials want to be seen,” Windmiller says. “The inspiration you get from walking into this space is a big part of what we do.”
That seemed to be the case for a recent LAB workshop on calligraphy led by calligrapher and artist Clair Daley.
“The space intrigued me,” says Tara Schlosser, one of about 30 people who took the class. “It’s so cozy.”
The St. Paul resident says when people entered the room and encountered the flower arrangements, candles, and a geometrically neat arrangement of paper, notecards, ink bottles and pen nibs sitting in front of each chair, “Everyone got their phone out.”
“It’s one great social media haven,” she says.
“I felt so inspired when I got here,” says Lori Crepps of Minnetonka. “They really went the extra mile to make it an experience for the students.”
Many students at the calligraphy class received the workshop as a gift from a friend or relative. Some of the participants were mothers and daughters who came together.
LAB’s creative workshops cost about $125, and the company typically holds two to four a month. About a year ago, Windmiller and Moriarty started what they call LAB For Business, offering business workshops led by industry experts on subjects like how to create a business brand on Instagram or the basics in media relations.
Moriarty says people who have attended the business workshops range from small business owners to employees at large corporations.
Moriarty and Windmiller have also created workshops in collaboration with companies like Cambria, Shinola, Room & Board and Macy’s.
LAB is a part-time business for both Windmiller and Moriarty. Windmiller also owns Windmiller Design Group, a marketing and design company. Moriarty is a social media strategist with a background in retail, styling and interior spaces.
Future LAB projects might include different formats besides the creative and business workshops, like panel discussions or all-day events, Moriarty says.
“We want to create an elevated experience,” she says.