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Somerville, MA
Artisans Asylum Bigger And Better Than Costco

By TJ McCueTuesday, August 12, 2014
3D Printing, Consumer, STEM

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If you will forget (and perhaps forgive) the bulk purchase, big consumer mindset of this comparison and just focus on the size of Costco, you will get my point. Makerspaces tend to be small. They tend to be concentrated, dense work areas. Artisan’s Asylum somehow decided to discard that notion and grow to become the biggest makerspace in the USA, perhaps the world. When I looked down a long hallway to an area far out of the main shop area, Paul Kassebaum and Cira Louise Brown told me the area is known as “the Burbs.”

Artisan’s Asylum is in Somerville, the rapidly growing tech area on the edge of Cambridge and Boston proper, and is known as a makerspace. It is also home to a large number of startups and artist galleries. It is nearby to other cool tech innovators, including Greentown Labs where I met Paul and Cira (but I have been aware of the space for years) who graciously offered me a personal tour. Thanks to both of them.

We wandered the entire Asylum looking at a variety of artists, makers, and inventor spaces. More than a makerspace, Artisan’s Asylum is a collaborative working space, aka co-working space, where you can rent a studio space from tiny (50 square feet) to small walled spaces (250 square feet), but with full access to the workshops, how much “office” space do you really need?

As I pondered what’s been built here in Somerville, I wondered about the word “asylum” and realized it comes with a couple of main definitions – one is for someone who is mentally ill, which is the outdated one. The other is what I believe they mean:

Asylum: “The protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee.”

Creativity, the art and science of making, is a sensitive arena and one which needs protection. I didn’t ask Paul or Cira how they define the word, but that’s where I landed. I’m glad for spaces like this – where one can be encouraged, nurtured, in the ways of making, building, and creating without fear of feeling foolish or inadequate.

There’s that saying that there are “no stupid questions,” and thus you should always ask a question -- but depending on the teacher(s) or educational experience you have had in life – you may not believe that at all. Artisan’s Asylum left me with the feeling, the sense of trust, that here, in this place; you could ask a question without fear. You can have fun and learn at the same time.

That’s cool and special.

In every makerspace I have been in or talked to, the core essence is always one that says, “Let’s figure this out together.” Some have called the maker movement a DIY (do-it-yourself) movement, but it is often far from a solo endeavor -- it is DIT - Do-It-Together. There are certainly personalities that are more introverted and not interested to stand up and present to a crowd, but those individuals are usually willing to share one on one about what they know, to help you advance. I saw evidence of this with every turn we made within the space – someone teaching, or helping out another craftsperson or artisan.

You could join this space and hack, make and just have fun. Or you might start a company – one that is a lifestyle business or one that would like to grow to become the next Ford or GE. Autodesk is a sponsor of this space and a whole range of their software is in use here from 123D Catch to Inventor to Fusion360 to AutoCAD and probably more.

Here are just a handful of the companies I walked past or picked up a card for future reference. Take a look -- remember, this is only a glimpse. Seriously. 

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