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The shuttered door of 3rd Ward. Photo via The Observer.

The shuttered door of 3rd Ward. Photo via The Observer.

Makers, artists, teachers, and members of Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward woke up earlier this week to reports of the sudden closing of that facility. Following comments on The Observer as well as on Reddit and especially on Facebook, one got the impression that the closing was almost overnight, with no warning at all. Even now there is no mention of the closing on their website.

For my Bay Area counterparts, the closest analogy I can make is 3rd Ward was like New York’s Crucible. Elsewhere, the analogy would be that 3rd Ward was similar to TechShop, but due to their Brooklyn verve or otherwise they always had a distinct identity.

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circa 2007, photo via my Flickr

From a somewhat scrappy warehouse founded in 2006 that threw parties to pay for woodshop and metalworking facilities (above) to a more-polished and heavily expanding warehouse with improved woodworking and metalworking facilities (below) alongside co-working space, jewelry making classes, electronics workshops, fashion photography studios, and branded bicycles for members, it’s sad to see 3rd Ward close its doors. From their participation at the 2nd annual World Maker Faire in Queens to their presentation at and blogging of Maker Faire in 2012, their presence will be missed if their doors truly stay shut.

Here’s the email 3rd Ward sent out to members yesterday:

On Oct 9, 2013, at 9:48 PM, 3rd Ward (join@3rdward.com) wrote:

Dear members,

It is with heavy hearts that we are emailing you today to let you know that after seven wonderful years of serving our community, 3rd Ward is closing its doors.

When we opened in 2006, our vision was to create a shared space for our community of artists and entrepreneurs to have a place to work, learn, network and thrive. We’re proud to have been able to do that for as long as we did. Yet, with the costs of running and operating our space, we are sadly no longer able to remain in business.

That said, it is our priority to make sure that our members are able to collect their belongings before our doors officially close on October 11th. We will have open hours from 10am-6pm on this Thursday and Friday, and next week on Monday and Tuesday for you to pick up any of your materials. Additionally, we will be open from 9am-1pm this coming Saturday, and 12pm-4pm this coming Sunday to permit you to pick up any of your materials.

Unfortunately, you will not have an opportunity to use your membership after today at 6pm, and we will not be able to refund any payments made for membership services that have not been fully utilized before that time.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at help@3rdward.com. As we are operating with limited staff, please be aware that we will answer your email as quickly as possible, but your patience is appreciated.

All the best,

3rd Ward

A readjustment of their membership scheme, along with inflated costs needed to open and run their recent expansion into Philadelphia are apparently to blame for their financial collapse. That, combined with a recent Fundrise campaign that raised only $375,000 toward their $1.5 million goal, meant the resources simply weren’t there to stay open.

Needless to say, the numbers involved mean many in the community are angry with the short notice and apparent lack of refunds for members or remuneration for teachers.

GuiĀ Cavalcanti, founder of Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, Mass., has questions about the profitability of any makerspace.

High-end fabrication equipment, and the kind of facility needed to run said equipment, is extremely expensive to acquire, fully equip, and maintain. Makerspaces voluntarily take on the burden of offering access to and training on this expensive equipment, and task themselves with creating a business plan around getting dozens to hundreds of people to safely and productively share these resources. In my experience, just identifying the expenses involved in running such a space is extremely difficult, to say nothing of creating membership and educational offerings that will both provide enough income to meet expenses and are attractive enough to the general public to invest in. I’m not yet convinced that there’s much money to be made in the makerspace model.

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circa 2011, photo via my Flickr

Eric Petersen who lead the first annual social bike ride to World Maker Faire last month, and previously a bicycle maintenance and mechanics teacher at 3rd Ward, told me,

There were problems: High turnover on all fronts, unquestioned commodification, lack of communication, an overemphasis on marketing and image (to name a few). Still, I think 3rd Ward shows people want to learn and teach and they’re willing to make sacrifices to do it – money, time, and headaches. The way the closing was handled is going to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth for a while, but I hope it doesn’t make us into cynics. I’m looking forward to someone filling 3rd Ward’s shoes soon, learning from their mistakes, and doing it better.

As it stands, there are only four business days left to clear out of their 80,000 square foot warehouse, and we’ll issue updates to this report as we confirm them.

What does the closure mean for Brooklyn’s and New York’s maker community and makerspaces in general? What are the lessons to be learned?

Nick Normal

I’m an artist & maker. A lifelong biblioholic, and advocate for all-things geekathon. Home is Long Island City, Queens, which I consider the greatest place on Earth. 5-year former Resident of Flux Factory, co-organizer for World Maker Faire (NYC), and blogger all over the net. Howdy!


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Comments

  1. chuck says:

    Any time a maker space closes there needs to be a full post-mortem to determine what went wrong. Failure is the nature of this kind of social experiment, but if nothing is learned it’s just a wasted effort.
    I agree with Gui Cavalcanti. Maker spaces don’t make good business investments, but they are a great social investment. The dividends are too long range for the business investor to see a quick profit but for a corporation investing in it’s future work force or a community investing in it’s youth, it’s a very wise investment. The future of maker spaces is in the non profit arena, whether as small groups of enthusiasts pooling resources or as larger organizations partnered with schools, libraries or museums.

    1. Nick Normal says:

      Hi Chuck,
      Good to hear from you. And you have a good read of the situation here even if you might not know the space or people. The super-sad end story of all of this is one less place for making in a city already squeezed by increasing rents and less space. It’ll be even tougher to get the next space off the ground, no matter its organizational structure. Thanks for reading.

  2. jakilevy says:

    Maker spaces should be made by makers. If we expect “someone else” to be providing this “for us” – well – it simply goes against the whole DIY ethos. That said, state of the art equipment is awesome. And expensive.

    In my eyes, 3rdWard would have been better off if it were run more like a coop, rather than a business with a crap ton of unnecessary overhead. The fact that 1 person could even potentially have enough power to bring down a whole community space – well – that’s just simply rotten. I hope all the people trying to save 3rdWard (the space, not the org) take that into account – a space made by makers for makers.

    1. Nick Normal says:

      Hi Jaki,
      Good to hear from you. It’s an interesting conflict, between a privatized space where the ‘guts and glory’ of making are simply provided, and the coop or public model where maybe members have a vote in what gets bought, expanded, etc. Agreed that one person alone should never have that much influence, and hopefully more details will keep emerging on how this all went belly up.

  3. Juan Lugo says:

    I think if 3rd Ward was to seriously endeavor in the honorable study and practice of the elimination of waste generate by global industry, they would have been shut down along time ago by the industrial elitist. That said, let the waste go on.

  4. Adina Levin says:

    This is very upsetting. 3rd Ward provided people with access to tools, equipment and classes, creating opportunities for the community. As co-founder of Collab, I am reminded daily of how people flourish when they’re able to tap into these resources. I hope a band of makers in Brooklyn collectively build a new makerspace to fill the void.

    1. Nick Normal says:

      Hi Adina,

      Also good to hear from you, thanks for stopping by. Your sentiment about how “people flourish” is really key. Surrounded by tools, machines, and of course other people making, only inspires more creativity. Hopefully that void gets filled sooner than later.

  5. Luther says:

    3rd Ward did an excellent job. Thanks for the energy and spirit you brought to NYC. Any poo-pooing from the above commenters don’t realize what a hard thing it is maintaining a business in NYC (80k of space is expensive in any city, but throw in NYC’s abusive retail renters tax, MTA tax, and monthly noodling of inspectors to make sure your pipes are painted the right color).
    I know plenty of artisans who careers were saved during hurricane Sandy because 3rd Ward had power and the facilities to do nearly anything.
    You will be missed.

    1. Nick Normal says:

      Hi Luther,
      The comment about artisans whose careers were saved during Sandy is a really interesting thought. I’d love to hear some of those makers’ stories and what exactly they did then, both at 3rd Ward and also in general to survive during that time. Let me know if you have any leads. Cheers.

  6. Jason Fuller says:

    it’s Somerville, not Somerfeild.

    And I totally agree NYC is way to expensive to have an unsubisided maker-space. Near a Path stop in Jersey City or Newark would have been a wiser choice. That said, it would be nice for cities / towns to acknowledge the advantages of having a local makers space (much like having a library) and do more to support them.

    1. Nick Normal says:

      Thanks Jason, my copyeditor wrote “field” so I appreciate that catch – yes, Somerville, “The Miracle.”

  7. Londa says:

    Hi, I’m writing a paper on makerspaces and considering using 3rd Ward as a case study. Is there anyone here closely involved with 3rd Ward who has time for a few short interview questions?

    1. jakilevy says:

      I started teaching there when classes first started, took classes there, went to events, and also coworker in the space for a bit. I’m happy to talk about my experience.