Space for the Creative Entrepreneur in Brooklyn's 3rd Ward
Those in creative cultural centers like parts of New York and Brooklyn might take for granted the community of artists and designers around them, and the opportunities for networking and collaboration that they create. We sometimes forget the blood, sweat, and tears of people who pulled these centers together, not to mention a region's history that opened the possibility for such a neighborhood and space to exist. We've recently talked about pioneering artists at OpenSpace Baltimore creating a collective gallery, and eco-minded collaborative workspaces are gaining national attention. Today we connected with the founders of another kind of cultural center - the community workshop. Brooklyn's 3rd Ward Executive Director/Co-Founder Jason Goodman told us about seeing a need and a niche, and pushing and shoving and jumping to bring it into existence.
The initial idea for 3rd Ward was to be a place for working artists. Was it a if we build it, they will come-style leap of faith, or did you have a real sense of who your first members were going to be? I'm curious about what you tried to find for yourselves before finally up and deciding to start a space of your own.
We built 3rd ward based on our own needs and the trials and tribulations of working artists in NYC. 2005 was the middle of one of the biggest real estate bubbles in New York history, and the cost of space was skyrocketing. That being said, our plan was pretty gray and we just dove in. There were times when we thought we might not make it, and many times that we had to rethink, reconfigure, rework, renegotiate, reinvent, re-whatever. The key for us is to stay obsessed about our members and bend over backwards for them... always thinking about new ways to make their lives better.
I would imagine that membership fees now cover things like rent and operational costs. How did you initially find the funding to get the space up and running, and fill it with such wide range of equipment?
When we found the space that is now 3rd Ward it was a totally raw and dismal. The last occupant used it as a warehouse; all the windows were bricked in and the place was an unloved wreck. At that time, the current owner of the building had just purchased it and wanted to develop the space into something interesting. I just pitched our idea to him, and I pitched him hard. He paid for the build out and some of our equipment and in return we agreed to pay a rent price that worked for him. The problem was we couldn't afford the rent when we first opened, so we threw rent parties and did construction jobs, etc., to make it through the early years. It was a pretty wild time, but we knew if we got enough designers and artists together under one roof something special would happen. Now, I get to spend all my time hanging out with amazing, energetic, creative people and look at art all day. Running 3rd Ward is my dream job and I feel blessed to know each and every member that we have.
As artists yourselves, I imagine that running a community workspace, managing members and budgets, and organizing schedules and classes weren't part of your experience. How do you pull it all of? Do you still have time to work on your own art?
This was a total baptism by fire. We had to learn on the fly and learn fast, and I got really lucky to have some amazing people come and work with us early on. Whatever we couldn't do, someone else working with us seemed to have a knack for it. We all learned from each other constantly.
I don't want to speak for Jeremy, but I feel like 3rd Ward is my greatest work of art to date, and I view it as a social experiment, work in progress. I get to see hundreds artists work each year and get tons of joy and satisfaction by seeing what they are up to, talking about new ideas, and curating shows with many of them.
Can you tell us about the folks that come to work and create art at 3rd Ward? How have they influenced how you run the space and what resources you offer?
We get a very diverse crowd at 3rd Ward. Everyone, from the emerging fashion photographer to the retired cabinetmaker, seems to feel pretty comfortable working together under our roof. The members' needs have shaped our space and programming, and they definitely differ from what we expected originally. We had opened thinking artists artists artists, but we quickly learned that we really serve a ton of designers as well, and we had to change gears a little to meet their super career/client focused needs.
We also serve craftsman, hobbyists, small business owners of all sorts, and many of the just plain curious looking for something interesting to do in their off time. I mean, how much time can you really spend in bars before you end up bored with a beer gut? Almost any freelancer can make good use of what we offer.
Photo: Jason Goodman courtesy 3rd Ward.