The Academy of All Things Awesome
Erika seems like the type of girl who is the life of the party. Under her newly founded enterprise, The Academy of All Things Awesome, she channels her positive energy and creativity into organizing events for the people of Hamilton to enjoy.
With the simple mantra, do cool stuff, anything goes for The Academy, as long it involves new activities or experiences, meeting new people, and having fun. Erika’s background in out-of-school education launched her into this event planning role, something she calls recreational learning, and Hamilton was the perfect place to do it.
Erika moved back to her hometown of Hamilton a year ago after after five years in Montreal and eight in Toronto.
“I started the Academy in Hamilton because of the period of growth that is happening here. People here are all about community and city building right now, and there’s this palpable sense of possibility that makes it the perfect place to be an entrepreneur. So many people in Hamilton seem encouraging and on board with new ideas and ventures in a way that I didn’t really feel in Toronto, at least not as an amateur entrepreneur,” she said.
“In terms of affecting the community, I think the Academy will just be one of the many awesome things that contributes to the sense of Hamilton being a small town. It’s already so easy to meet people and feel like a part of the fabric here, so hopefully the events and activities we facilitate will strengthen that feeling of connection and all-around awesomeness!”
Why Erika McMeekin is so Awesome
Erika studied Education and has extensive experience in program and curriculum design, especially for children. Her focus is on informal learning outside of the classroom, working with Hamilton’s Centre3, CORE Hamilton, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.
“I think out-of-classroom learning is far more effective than formal education because there is just so much more opportunity for it to be truly experiential, authentic, and relevant to people’s lives. Humans are wired to want to learn things, but those things are different for everyone. So when we have an education system that is based on such a limited curriculum, and which privileges topics/learning styles/outcomes that are incredibly homogenous – not to mention downright irrelevant to so many people’s lived experience – people’s passions, strengths, and gifts are completely devalued. I think people should be able to choose what they want to learn, and they should do it within real communities, towards real outcomes. The whole concept of school as this separate place where you go ‘to learn’ is crazy to me. You learn by living, meeting people, trying new things, and doing cool stuff!”
The Academy of All Things Awesome provides people of Hamilton with new ways to socialize and build relationships. It gets people out and exploring their city with different workshops for different skill levels and interests. The nice thing about the Academy is that the events are non-committal; they are affordable, one-off opportunities to try something new.
Awesome things happen in Hamilton
The Academy launched with the Hamilton Flea at Treble Hall, organized in conjunction with Erika’s sister Whitney from Girl on the Wing. (Stay tuned for a second flea with the same vintage vibe and cool location coming up in the winter season. Erika is currently in search of another historically beautiful – and accessible – building to host the event.) One of her goals is to switch up locations and let people discover buildings they wouldn’t otherwise explore.
The first official programming for The Academy was the wildly successful Beyography dance class held at the Hamilton Conservatory of the Arts. The four-week session allowed people to sign up for just one class or all of them. Each class was sold to capacity with about 50 people showing their dance skills, and even more on the waiting list.
Erika brought in “dancer extraordinaire”, Toronto’s Nicky Nasrallah, to teach his famous and in-high-demand 2-hour long Beyography classes: choreographed Beyonce songs that mimic the diva’s onstage performances from the mega-fan himself. From the first class, Crazy in Love, to the last, Upgrade You, each one welcomed dancers of all ages and skill levels, from mother-daughter duos to BFFs to single males and females who came out to meet new people.
Erika was happy with Beyography’s success – but not surprised.
“It was just so great to connect with all these new people in Hamilton and to pool our energies into that mass of fierce, hair-flipping, diva-esque awesomeness! I’m not surprised that so many people came (I mean come on – everyone wants to channel their inner Beyoncé!), but I wasn’t expecting it to be so uplifting and soulful every week. The vibes were so high, and I think we all felt it. It was definitely an awesome start for the Academy, and I’m looking forward to keeping the momentum going!”
For the very last Beyography routine, Erika joined Nicky onstage in her LBD and vintage high heels to dance the final number. The class was so much fun and so empowering. It had attendees showing off their fiercest Beyonce attitude, laughing at themselves, and bonding over a shared experience. Everyone was smiling and having a good time – and now anticipating future themed dance classes and a second Beyography series in Hamilton at the Spice Factory in October. (Sign up here, classes will set out soon!)
A growing community in Hamilton
Other upcoming events include a Mixtape Exchange at 21 Rebecca Street October 1, a Collage Workshop with the Group of 7 Billion at Treble Hall October 3, and Bourbon Studies October 22 led by Dave Fauteux, “mixologist extraordinaire“, for The Mule and Two Black Sheep also at 21 Rebecca Street. Erika is open to finding passionate people to facilitate different events like teaching classes or brainstorming ideas.
Erika and I first met and chatted over peach and raspberry beers at Hamilton’s iconic Chester’s at Gore Park, Erika’s suggestion to hit up one more time before they closed their doors. After saying goodbye, she was off on her bike to Baltimore House’ Karaoke Cabaret.
Well connected in the city, Erika attributes part of her network to her sister Whitney, but mostly on her ability to make friends everywhere she goes.
And that is what makes her so awesome.
Check out class schedules at academyofallthingsawesome.com