Meet Artisan Asylum’s New Executive Director

Artisan's AsylumLars Hasselblad Torres. Photo by Nathan Cooke.

Lars Hasselblad Torres will take over as executive director at Artisan’s Asylum on Aug. 6. We spoke with him about why he wanted to join the local makerspace and what his vision is for its future.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m an artist. I work in the collage media, and these days really just sewing paper, I make large-scale installations that I use either as sculptural work or as theatrical backgrounds. I’m also an educator, I really believe powerfully in out-of-school learning, the opportunity to enrich what happens in the classroom through mentoring-based relationships and hands-on projects. I’m also, I guess I would say, a public scholar. I feel pretty passionately about American democracy, as well as community-based participation and the mechanisms and methods for engaging everybody and strengthening well-being in our communities. Those are kind of three big buckets into which my life fits.

What drew you to Artisan’s Asylum?

I’ve been familiar with Artisan’s for about five or six years now, and I had the chance to visit Artisan’s a couple of times. I had the opportunity to build and grow a remarkable makerspace up here in Burlington [Vt.], and when I learned that Artisan’s was going through a pretty big community and cultural and business shift, it just seemed like an amazing opportunity to get involved with this extraordinary community, early founders of the maker movement in the U.S.

How would you characterize that shift that you spoke about, that pivotal moment that Artisan’s is in?

From what I understand, first of all, just from a management perspective, the idea of having a full-time executive director is something that has some implications for not only how business strategy is developed, with the board and community stakeholders and members, but also it has a little bit to do with how decisions get made internally.

The other side is from a business perspective. Artisan’s has grown extraordinarily well over the last eight years, as truly a community-led enterprise, and it’s busting at the seams a little bit. It needs to find out where can it achieve efficiencies, from a pure balance-sheet perspective, lowering costs while achieving very strong results, and also where are some of the opportunities to grow and build in more revenue. Those might be education programs, community outreach programs, partnerships, corporate partnerships, there’s a huge amount of opportunity, I sense, in building upon this fabrication and creative engine that Artisan’s has become.

And then there’s this longer-term question about where’s Artisan’s going to be five, 10 years from now? Are we going to remain a 40,000-square-foot business, or are we going to have the opportunity to grow our footprint? What is that going to look like?

At this point, are there any big ideas that you have?

A couple of ideas—right now we’re an inward-facing business, which is to say that where we excel is where we provide outstanding, affordable services to artists and fabricators. What could that look like if we created a public engagement side of that business as well? Is it possible to create, for example, some kind of entertainment experience for the public that builds revenue, that educates folks about the maker movement, about manufacturing in the fourth Industrial Revolution, introduces them to VR, introduces them to AI, some of these really critical technologies that are going to be a part of our future, but introduce them in a way that is challenging, exciting, playful, fun?

Another big idea is to say what would Artisan’s look like if we really became Boston’s premier location for educating young people in the tools and technologies of the future—whether that’s apprenticeship-type programs or short-term, after school activities in which they dive deep into concepts like biomimicry or augmented reality, wearable technologies, accessibility. How do we engage young people in exploring some of these areas?

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and conciseness.