Cancer Ward: Shuttered W’burg art center regulars blame closure on greed

Cancer Ward: Shuttered W’burg art center regulars blame closure on greed
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

There are three words that locked-out regulars say do not describe Williamsburg’s abruptly shuttered arts center.

Community work space.

Teachers and members of Third Ward, which closed without warning on Wednesday, say the do-it-yourself hub was driven into the ground by a greedy administration that focused more on expanding the brand than sticking to the Morgan Avenue complex’s original mission of teaching arts, leaving its classrooms and work spaces shiny shells of their former selves.

“In the last three months, the place was empty but it looked amazing,” said Ryan OConnor, who taught sculpture at Third Ward for four years.

Within the past year, Third Ward raised its membership and class prices and stopped offering lab or work hours with classes, driving craftspeople and pupils away in droves, and all the while putting investor money into renovations, O’Connor said.

Nor were there warnings of the sudden closure that left customers holding worthless memberships and teachers out of a job.

Third Ward sent e-mails announcing the shuttering to members on Wednesday night, hours after the news broke online, saying that all memberships were canceled and would not be refunded.

“Unfortunately, you will not have an opportunity to use your membership after today at 6 pm, and we will not be able to refund any payments made for members services that have not been fully utilized before that time,” wrote founder Jason Goodman, who told the New York Times that he knew the project had cash-flow problems but waited to make the announcement because of paperwork issues.

The news left people who had forked over cash to take classes such as instrument-making with a serious case of the blues.

“It’s just a shame,” said Mary Hawkins, who had six months left on a $48 membership that granted her discounts on classes.

Teachers were not given a heads up either, though some had a sense that there was trouble in the main office.

“There was a possibility that something like this was going to happen in the next year, but no one thought it would happen so abruptly,” O’Connor said.

But as some Brooklynites lamented the death of their hand-made haven, a few others scrambled to try to help.

The building’s leasing company reached out to artists to work out deals that would let them keep their studio spaces for less than what they were paying to Third Ward.

“We want to keep the keep the creative vibe of Third Ward,” said Nigel Shamash, a leasing agent with Nsnyre.

The adult education clearinghouse Brooklyn Brainery in Prospect Heights started a Third Ward match-making service on Thursday, offering to try to pair out-of-work Third Ward teachers with arts education programs throughout the city.

“We don’t have the capacity to take on a whole bunch of new teachers, but it sucks to see so many people out of their gigs,” Brooklyn Brainery cofounder Jen Messier said.

Others started a web site called save3rdward.com with the mission of forming a member-run, cooperative set of studios in the space, Gothamist reported.

Third Ward’s sudden demise comes in the midst of major corporate expansion. In the past year, the self-described makers paradise opened a branch in Philadelphia and announced plans to start a food industry incubator in Crown Heights. The company also tried to stymie the economic bleeding through an internet fund-raiser that yielded $375,000, far less than the $1.5-million it was seeking. The Philadelphia branch closed along with the Williamsburg flagship on Wednesday and the future of the Crown Heights project is in doubt.

Jason Goodman did not return repeated calls for comment and realtor Chris Havens, who is facilitating the Crown Heights development, would not say what Third Ward’s demise means for the foodie-plex’s future.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.