The city of Somerville, MA, which used to be relegated as a student
ghetto, had a long history of corruption and poor public schools.
It’s former slang name, “slummerville” said it all. Dangerous parks,
dilapated streets and high crime. Over the last 10 years, a dramatic
change took place. A large grant from the state to assist artists to
take over empty buildings, assisted a revolutionary change. As many
places where artists settle, changes take place. Unique shops,
cafes, artisan food shops began to proliferate. The city took a stand
supporting the changes and gave artists more latitude in developing
their spaces by expediting building permits which usually take
months to secure.
You are correct though, there has to be some serious handshaking
between the city and its artisan occupants. We are lucky, the Mayor
has already come by, and the city planners are moving permits as fast
as they can. This synergy is important and if you want things to
move, you can’t stay idle. Gui has been to every meeting. He holds an
engineering and creative arts degree from Brown, so he knows his
Somerville is now a vibrant city, and the people moved in…with
their children. Schools improved because more highly educated parents
demanded it. I do find it interesting that the very building we now
occupy, the Ames Envelope Building, where highly skilled machinists
were employed, found their jobs shipped overseas. The artists who
occupy Artisans Asylum, are being trained in those very skills with
lathes, CNC machines and new technologies like small robotic 3D
printers. There is an old envelope binding machine in a vacant area
which the 20 somethings covet and want to learn how to use it for all
kinds of cool stuff.
The difference in the multi use art buildings of where I had my old
studio and factory buildings that are repurposed really lies in the
community structure. When I designed Metalwerx, the community studios
were just that. An open plan which fostered community and discussion.
We are not a row of closed doors which can be for some, isolating.
Already I saw somebody building a huge wood structure above their
space for storage and a cool wood beam system. I looked at the off
the shelf angle brackets and thought, oh, so that’s how it is done.
There is a nice older man who is building a kayak out of wood. Neat!
The future plans for AA will be a small gallery space and a larger
retail space. This is where Cleverwerx hopes to sell small tools and
all those supplies that you run out of. Don’t know when this will
happen. I still have yet to move in and set up myself. I’m having
fun…and isn’t that the point of it all?