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IRL In Review

This year our student workers at the IRL came up with the great idea of putting together a “year in review” book for the space. As part of that, they asked me to write a kind of forward to introduce the book and reflect on where we’ve come from and where we’re going. I enjoyed writing this so much that I wanted to share it here. Special thanks to my pal Dave Wolinsky for helping me edit.


Last spring the Idea Realization Lab emerged into DePaul’s consciousness with a student-led mission to engender exploration, tinkering, and a community service-oriented tradition. Through countless stories of imagination and inventiveness, we’ve built a community where all are welcome to learn how to commune through materials, tools, and each other’s ideas in the spaces between.

Today we renew our dedication to that mission and the promise that it has for DePaul. We challenge ourselves to hold a higher standard for makerspaces: one where we all have the access and support to tap into our latent creative potential. To that end, I am incredibly proud of our student employees, members, and our community partners who embody this spirit of seeking a new way forward together. A way where thinking and making are tied together, and where we pursue this endeavor with earnestness and playfulness.

Let’s celebrate this year.

The Idea Realization Lab now averages over 1,000 visits per month. Our student workers have hosted nearly 200 community events since opening. We have supported projects ranging from robotics to alternative game controllers. The list continues to grow. On the Internet, one student comment — which I think encapsulates our success well — states that “discovering this lab has led to finding an area that has fellow creatives [with] a strong desire to learn, test out ideas and grow together.” That last part is critical.

Looking forward, our continued success has given us the opportunity to grow together toward new horizons. Beginning in fall 2019, the IRL2 (or IIRL) will open on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus. Though the IRL and IIRL will have their own differences, both will have the same mission, and will amplify each other’s successes. I look forward to seeing what our Lincoln Park community contributes to this second space, and how we can use our dual-campus presence to strengthen the bonds between students, faculty, and staff across departments and colleges.

The Idea Realization Lab name is a clever play on the popular abbreviation “IRL” (in real life) and also a play on words indicating that here, in our space, your dreams can become reality. These two ideas are necessarily bonded together in spirit. “Creative practice doesn’t really arise from some unseen, divine inspiration that strikes an artist [..] rather, art emerges from a negotiation between a creator, an initial vision or context, and a set of material limitations that help lead the idea from abstraction to concreteness,” the game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost writes. The individual, the idea, and the material are one, and ideas become reality when we commune between these spaces.

Let’s see what new ideas become a reality as we grow together and explore – negotiate – the unknown spaces between.

Jay Margalus


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

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