Creative loafing

Where to get your geek on
By MARION DAVIS  |  September 3, 2009

Photo: Frank Mullin
IN THE NETWORK Stephanie Gershon is part of Pecha Kucha Providence.

Perhaps you've heard that Providence has quite a creative community — a bit techie, very artistic, and at times pretty out there. Or maybe you're just looking for kindred spirits, or some connections beyond your college campus. The city, you've heard, has plenty to offer, but how to find it?

There are a few sure bets: AS220, the downtown arts space, for instance, and Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, both of which welcome non-students and host scores of events each month (Brown, especially). But to really tap into the community, you'll want to venture a bit farther.


If computers are your passion — or digital design, Web-based applications, software — the Providence Geeks ( are a must on your social calendar. Founded in 2006 by local techies looking to bring people together and promote collaboration, this informal group meets at AS220 ( every third Wednesday of the month.

There's no official membership, though about 900 people are on the mailing list. Each month, a local tech company or project gives a brief presentation, but the 5:30 pm "dinners," which tend to attract more than 100 tech professionals, students and people interested in technology, are mostly about casual networking.

Because the Geeks' focus is relatively narrow, they've inspired spin-offs such as the hacker group DC401 ( and a biweekly Tuesday-morning entrepreneur meet-up. But as the first and the biggest techie group in town, the Geeks are still the heart of the local tech community and a great resource to connect into that world. So if this is your scene, stop in for a taco and a beer.


But maybe you're a bit more hands-on than just writing code. Maybe you like to build things — cool high-tech gadgets with their guts on full display, so fellow tinkerers can see what you did and maybe improve on it. The Geeks, yeah, they'll appreciate you. But the AS220 Labs (, an outpost of the MIT Fabrication Technology Laboratory ("Fab Lab") — that's the place to be.

A self-described "teaching space, workspace and community junk pile for supporting open hardware and software projects," the lab offers an array of high-end tools and workshops for anyone who wants to learn to use them. Plenty of local creative types like to play there, too, so it's a good place to make new connections.

If you're a bit shy, or just want an extra-easy way into this scene, an upcoming festival, Maker Faire Rhode Island (, offers lots of opportunities. Affiliated with MAKE magazine, but organized by local techies and inventors, the event includes four days of hands-on workshops at Slater Mill in Pawtucket, September 14 to 17, plus a meet-up at the Wolcott Eco Office in Providence on September 18 and a showcase at Water Fire on September 19.


With a top-notch industrial design program right at RISD, and a solid old- and new-economy manufacturing presence in the region even today, it's no surprise that Rhode Island has a good share of industrial designers — whether they're employed creating consumer products, or trying to change the world.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , A Better World By Design, Providence Daily Dose, Pecha Kucha,  More more >
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