Artisan’s Asylum started working with the Cambridge Science Festival in April of 2012. The Festival had heard about our previous design challenge, and asked us to put together a design challenge specifically for their event. I decided to run a trebuchet design challenge over the course of the week of the Science Festival, culminating in a big public competition on the Cambridge Common. 8 teams participated and had a fantastic time shooting water balloons at castle targets.
For some reason, I wanted nothing more for my 25th birthday than to float down the Charles River in a bouncy castle. I don’t know where the impulse came from, and I don’t know why it became so urgent a matter, but there it is. I rounded up 30 of my friends, raised around $2,500, and purchased a bouncy castle and construction supplies (lumber and closed cell foam) for a raft that could support 6,000 pounds and yet still be built in a day.
The day of the adventure, I drove to our build site with a rolled-up bouncy castle, a dinghy, and a huge pile of construction materials. Over the course of the day, we built a load-bearing frame, packed it with closed-cell foam, placed the frame and bouncy castle in the Charles River, inflated the castle with a generator powering blowers (that were all placed in a dinghy), and slowly paddled our way down a mile and a half of the Charles River.
Hilariously enough, we never had to take the raft off the water once we put it in. We floated from the intersection of I-90 and I-95 to Waltham city center, and an elderly couple followed us in a kayak for the last quarter-mile. When it came time to drag the waterlogged raft out of the river, the couple produced a giant bundle of cash and bought it off of us on the spot. Life is a strange, mysterious adventure sometimes.
While I was at student at Olin College, I started a tradition of organizing other students into weekend-long Design Challenges. We would pick a weekend, pick an type of thing to build, and split up into teams to accomplish that task in 24-48 hours. After graduating, I really wanted to recreate that type of event as a public competition, and thus were born Artisan’s Asylum Design Challenges. The first-ever Design Challenge involved building fully-functional hovercraft in 48 hours, then racing them around a large track that included a jump.
The kits included motors that were unfortunately underpowered, but some teams overcame the underpowered motors to successfully complete the course, and everyone had a blast. The challenge was a very effective team building exercise, introducing the competitors to new technologies and design and engineering skills in the process.
In winter 2010/2011, the Somerville Arts Council put out a call for winter events through its ArtsUnion event production program. The Arts Council had traditionally had trouble producing winter events, because Union Square simply doesn’t have that much interior space for large gatherings. I approached them about running an outdoor, flash mob style, play-in-the-snow event with music and lots of hot chocolate, and the first Union Square Snow Day was born! The first event occurred just after Artisan’s Asylum was founded, and as a result only attracted 200 people or so. The second event (in 2012/2013, since 2011/2012 had no major snowstorm) drew over 600 people to Union Square to come play in the snow, eventually resulting in one of the largest snowball fights the City of Somerville has ever seen.
The Somerville Arts Council contacted us in early 2011 about creating a low-cost public work of art for their annual ArtBeat festival. We responded to the call by building a 25-foot long, 12-foot tall sculpture of a dragon that we affectionately called Strawberry Shortcake. I worked with Asylum artist Ecco Pierce to design the sculpture to be artistically interesting, load-bearing, and assemble-able by volunteers on-site in just a few hours. The sculpture was then shown at ArtBeat and the Hungry Tiger Street Festival to adoring crowds, who got a chance to “ride” it and make it roar.
Boston has one of the best 4th of July fireworks displays in the country, hands down. Every year, it launches its tremendous display from the middle of the Charles River, from a set of barges prepared months in advance. Olin College students discovered early on that getting a seat on the Esplanade was hard, and that the best views came from the water anyway; soon after discovering this, they put Project Best Idea Ever together and took to the river in inflatable rafts each year.
After the Asylum incorporated in May of 2010, I wanted to do something a little bigger and better than rafts on the 4th of July. I put out a call for interested adventurers, and together we made five gigantic rubber duck boats to take on the water; each measured 15 feet long by 8 feet tall, and weighed a couple hundred pounds. The ducks were designed to be easily assemble-able, highly customizable, and almost impossible to sink. They were an astounding success, and a hilarious time was had by all.