A Self-Sustaining Learning Center

Peoria’s makerspace brings together the most creative makers and inventors in central Illinois.

by Ellie Ford, River City Labs
River City Labs
The tools and machines available at River City Labs showcase the members’ wide range of varying interests.

Stroll into River City Labs, Peoria’s makerspace, and you’ll find a bona fide paradise for makers, hackers, artists and creators of all sorts. Previously located in Peoria’s Warehouse District, River City Labs made the move to north Peoria in 2018.

RCL members will proudly declare this brightly lit, neon-painted garage/classroom/workshop to be “a gym for nerds,” and the description fits. Though members can use the space at any time, the busiest night is Thursday during their weekly Build Night/Open House—a time for the group to meet up, socialize, and greet potential members and curious visitors.

Culture and Community
Creativity and energy buzzes through the space, where members talk enthusiastically in groups, moving from one machine to another discussing their latest projects. The most common refrain, “What are you working on right now?” almost always sparks a conversation. The folks of River City Labs tend to be working on at least one project most of the time—and often two or three.

One glance at the tools and machines in the space reveals that members and their interests vary widely—it’s not uncommon for a discussion to shift from 3D printing to woodworking to textile art in a matter of minutes as members share knowledge and collaborate on ideas. The culture of openness and inclusivity means it’s easy to ask for help or a second opinion. Aaron Peterson, current president of River City Labs, feels this atmosphere is what helps the space grow. 

“We've always said that our most important asset is our culture and community, rather than the tools,” he explains. “Anyone can put tools in a room and charge for access. What sets RCL apart is that the tools are just a nice addition to membership.”

Room for Everyone
The advantages of operating a makerspace in a midsized city like Peoria are plentiful. While RCL got started in the garages of a few of the area’s 3D printing enthusiasts, the community has blossomed in locations across Peoria. Steady and sustained growth has contributed to the group’s friendly, helpful feeling. “Having access to the brain space of the most creative makers and inventors in central Illinois is easily the most exciting part of being involved with us,” Peterson says. “Now that we're in a more accessible and useful building, my plan is to align our culture and efforts to grow as a self-sustaining learning center for anyone to explore their creative interests.”

Peterson emphasizes that there’s room for everyone at River City Labs. “If you don’t know how to make something, we probably have someone that can help you learn. If not, we’d love to learn it with you,” he says. “I’d like to see us become the place where anyone can go to bring their ideas to reality—whether it’s out of wood, metal, leather, cloth, yarn... anything!”

Stop by after 7:30pm on any Thursday night to meet the crew and see some making in action for yourself. You may just catch the making bug! “If you create something from nothing, you’re a maker,” Peterson explains. “My goal is for you to make it at River City Labs!” PM

River City Labs is located at 7916 N. Hale Avenue in Peoria. For more information, visit rivercitylabs.space.