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The Beat Making Lab, co-founded by Freelon, Mark Katz and Stephen Levitin , is a community center for students interested in learning the art of beat making.

Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of its opening in a donated space beneath the Franklin Street Post Office. Freelon said hundreds of children and adults from all over the state have come through the Beat Making Lab, which is open during after-school hours.

“Anyone off the street can come in free of charge and create music and do their thing,” Freelon said.

Simon Lee, a senior at Chapel Hill High School and local music producer, said he came to the Beat Making Lab in summer 2013 to learn how to be more in tune with the Chapel Hill music scene. Now he runs the lab on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“It’s really grown from just a basement to a place where creativity is welcomed,” Lee said. “I can’t tell you how many kids came by that were on the streets just hanging out.”

Kelvin Hill, a Durham artist-producer, runs the lab on Fridays and helps students with their recordings, lets them watch him work and answers questions they have.

“It’s giving students an outlet to express themselves,” he said. “We do the music but we talk about that life stuff, too.”

The Lab started in fall 2011 as a class in the UNC music department, originally taught by Katz, a music professor, and Levitin, a producer, which included practical beat making, history and entrepreneurship components.

After traveling the world and receiving various grants, Freelon said the Lab reached out to the town for a space in summer 2013. The town offered a storage room filled with old court documents in the basement of the post office.

“It was a filing cabinet, basically,” Lee said.

Volunteers helped police move the documents, and with the help of sponsors, outfitted the center with laptops, microphones and other equipment.

“We’re not like a typical community center,” Freelon said. “We just go in there and make beats.”

Freelon said the lab will seek to incorporate elements of political education and community organizing, something they began this summer with a camp, “Black August Beats.”

The camp is what brought Hill to the lab. He said Freelon asked him to speak about production techniques, but topics discussed — from graffiti to healthy eating — drew him to continue volunteering with the group.

“They were using music as a medium to teach students about something else,” Hill said. “We’re here and we’re available. It’s a resource to do music, educate yourself and just have fun.”

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