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.
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 (email@example.com) wrote:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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,
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.
Gui 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.
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?