By Diana Limbach Lempel, Creative Economy Coordinator for Union Square Main Streets
Meet Judah Sher, a self-proclaimed “renegade designer” who just recently moved from Cincinnati to Somerville in order to start his business, Sindrian Arts. I first met Judah at July’s biz.buzz, and was immediately excited to share what he’s doing with all of you, because it’s exactly in line with our values here at Union Square Main Streets. His end goal, as he describes it, is “to help small local businesses of all sorts to compete directly with large corporations.” And how does he hope to do this? Build a machine that can build other machines, literally giving the tools of production to other small fabricators like himself. It’s called a Kikori open source CNC router, and he thinks it’s the key to “slow design, open-source, local production.” You can learn more about it by watching Judah’s Kickstarter video , or by reading his blog post on his topic here.
We’re excited about Judah’s work because it brings manufacturing back into cities and gives small businesses the power to make their own products. It’s like bringing the high-tech concept of open-source software to the old-fashioned idea of making things with your hands. So where does one make a Kikori open souce CNC router, you might ask? Why, at Artisan’s Asylum, of course! Artisan’s Asylum, a “fab lab”, or “micro-manufacturing” space in Somerville is home to tinkerers, hackers, crafters, and entrepreneurs alike. They make things from scratch, with their hands and with machines, in a practice that is quickly disappearing from our communities.
Asylum leadership and members nurture a collaborative community of skill sharing, keeping skills in our communities alive and active. They hold classes on everything from how to mill wood, follow a sewing pattern, or to weld a robot. They participate in public fesivals and host a bike hacking collective that builds crazy “nerd bikes” and takes them on rides. But they are also nurturing a whole crop of businesses who have DIY at the heart of their enterprises, like Sindrian Arts. It’s places like the Artisan’s Asylum that made Judah want to relocate his business in Somerville, rather than staying in Cincinnatti. At Artisan’s Asylum, Judah can access the tools, technical assistance, and space to build his fabrication machines and to experiment with new products. But more importantly, as he told me, he was looking for a place where people not only had creative ideas, but had the initiative and resources to make them into reality.
We talked with Judah and Gui, President of Artisan’s Asylum, so that you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ll ask the same questions of every business and entrepreneur we interview, so you can get a good idea of what’s happening here in Somerville with the arts, business, manufacturing, and keeping it local.
DA: Gui, tell us more about why Somerville is the right place for Artisan’s Asylum to locate?
GC: Somerville is the perfect city for a shared space workshop space like Artisan’s Asylum. It has the second highest number of artists per capita in the United States, and is home to a hugely diverse population from all walks of life. We’re representative of all of the different kinds of creativity, craft and design already present in Somerville – we just give the community a focused outlet and the tools to express its energy. With a city plan that sprinkles factory, residential, and commercial spaces next door to each other, we really couldn’t ask for a better host.
DA: To both of you, what’s the hottest thing going on at your business right now?
GC: We’re expanding, in a big way — moving from a 9,000 square foot space to a 25,000 square foot one, hiring our first full-time paid staff, and incorporating more than 65 new studio spaces for artists, artisans, manufacturers, inventors and anyone else who likes to make things with their hands. We’re expecting our community to triple in size, and to be able to expand our programming to include youth education, sponsoring our own regional competitions, and ongoing communal making projects.
JS: Right now I’m focusing on getting the Kikori open source CNC router ready to be sold as a kit. Once that’s ready I’ll be adapting the design for a smaller 2′x4′ version as well as an angled machine designed to take up less floor space. Finally, I’ll be working on add-on modules for the machines that will allow them to scan 3D objects and work like lathes.
DA: What do you hope for your business to be known for in the future?
JS: My end goal for Sindrian Arts is for it to serve as a model for other small business who want to practice local manufacturing. Because CNC technology is so versitle, it could be used to produce products for a wide range of businesses, from custom furniture to toys to kinetic sculpture. I want to help people start these businesses.
GC: In the future, I hope that crossing the line between arts and manufacturing is much more commonplace than it is now, and that there are communities organized around doing just that all over the country. I hope we’re known for being one of the first incubators of this kind of business, and most organic of these. And for having been a little crazy to try it when we had no way of knowing it would be such a huge success. I hope that we continue to push the envelope, challenging society’s assumptions of what “work” and “art” are, and bringing creative fabrication to a constantly growing community.
DA: Tell us briefly about your favorite project or product to date.
JS: Probably my favorite product is the mechanical portfolio case. It took me a long time to get everything to work together the way I wanted it too, but I’m very happy with the end result. The best part is watching people’s faces when I open it for them for the first time.
GC: Last Christmas break we hosted a DIY Secret Santa at the Asylum. It was amazing to see the gifts people came up with. It was such a refreshing change from all the silly store-bought gifts that so many people exchange at holidays and often end up re-gifting, or just throwing out.