New Union Square space offers artists room for creativity

On July 10, 2010, in Community/Arts, by The Somerville Times
Gui Cavalcanti and Jenn Martinez at the Artisan’s Asylum workshop on Joy Street. ~Photo by Julia Fairclough

By Julia Fairclough

Gui Cavalcanti looked around the expansive loft space at 13 Joy Street with a grin on his face. He went on to explain how Artistan’s Asylum is fun, light hearted, gets people off the couch-and forges creativity.
“We see ourselves as a catalyst,” Cavalcanti said. “We want to make it easy for people to be creative. We know what it’s like to be in a rut, to watch TV and go to bed instead of create. We decided we didn’t want that.”

Cavalcanti, 24, and Jenn Martinez, 28, are the cofounders of Artistan’s Asylum; its mission being “Make creativity a way of life.”

Artistan’s Asylum offers a structure to learn and practice creativity through workshops, with classes ranging from introduction to sewing and clothing modification to robotics and building art bikes. It also offers “open studio” time where people can use the extensive line of machinery. Their 9,000-square foot space in a brick industrial building offers ample room for machinery and for local artists to rent out space.

“Our goal is to be a jumping-off point so that people can create or maybe grow to start their own business,” said Cavalcanti, who had personally suffered from not having sufficient space to create.
Cavalcanti, a roboticist for Boston Dynamics, moved into a great apartment after he graduated from Olin College of Engineering last year. A huge flaw, however, was that there was no room for metal working. He was used to having access to equipment at school, and now it was gone. He even bought 20 gallons of mineral oil for a robotic aquarium project, but never got around to making anything. He admitted that he was depressed.

“What kept us from being creative was a lack of space,” Cavalcanti and Martinez said, almost in unison. Martinez is a freelance costume designer. “We were also looking for a community to motivate us.”

The idea was born in March 2010. Cavalcanti and Martinez signed a lease for a 1,000 square-foot space on Windsor Street, and were off and running. They purchased $40,000 worth of professional equipment through savings, loans, and gifts.

During the kick-off meeting in May, there was standing room only. Cavalcanti and Martinez talked about their mission. They wanted to demonstrate to the public that they were serious.

“What better way than to intimidate people with 4,000 pounds of machinery,” Martinez chuckled.

After that meeting, around 50 people came forward, saying they wanted to teach a workshop. An artist suggested a metal working class for women. The class filled up the day the mailing went out and before it could be posted on the Web site, Martinez said.

The momentum was going at an amazing pace. Artisan’s Asylum quickly outgrew its space. Conveniently, a couple workers from Willoughby & Baltic, a company that makes robots and has a similar mission, approached Artistan’s Asylum with an offer to take over their space at 13 Joy Street.

In four months, the company blossomed into 10,000 square feet of space with over 450 people on the mailing list, and more than 50 instructors.

And already the group has completed their first fun project, which entailed building five large metal ducks that seat four to use as a raft during the July 4 festivities in Boston Harbor. The artists cleverly waved Artist Asylum flags and banners as free advertising.

“It’s all about being fun, creative, and light hearted,” Cavalcanti said. “Most people who built the ducks never thought that they could make one.”


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