A band of do-it-yourselfers locked out of a big Williamsburg arts center that shuttered suddenly earlier this month are striking out on their own and trying to form a cooperative, member-owned organization that will allow them to make snow globes, build stringed instruments, and forge samurai swords to their hearts’ content.
The craft hub Third Ward closed abruptly on Oct. 10 after seven years in operation, leaving artists who rented studio space there and hundreds of students and teachers in the lurch and snubbed on refunds. But in the days that followed, some of those caulk-and-viola refugees joined forces to try to assemble the community art shop of their dreams.
“We want to build this strong from the foundation so that it will be long-lasting and accountable to the community,” said former Third Ward member Victoria Valencia, who is spearheading the new co-op project with a dozen or so people.
The plan came out of an ad hoc group called Save Third Ward that formed the day the Morgan Avenue space closed its doors without warning, citing financial trouble, leaving some of them out hundreds of dollars, but the group has already outgrown its titular mission.
The plucky power-tool fans do not yet have a physical space for the co-op. First, they are focusing on recruiting people to help them develop a business plan, but they are shooting to launch the project by early next year. The goal is to keep the communitarian spirit of Third Ward alive but without the for-profit model and hierarchy.
“Third Ward built a lot of connections and friendships that changed people’s lives,” said Launa Eddy, another former Third Ward member working on the new co-op. “We want to keep that going in another space and do it right so that it’s sustainable.”
Other former Third Warders are also seeking community but see the shuttering as an opportunity to branch out rather than trying to recreate the old facility.
Robin Grearson, a former instructor at the complex, left last year after she says management started paying the teachers on a commission-only basis, meaning their paychecks fluctuated depending on how many students were in a class. When the place shut down, she vowed to help the displaced stuff-makers find other outlets.
“When it closed the way it did, I was offended,” Grearson said. “[The people running Third Ward] had marketed themselves as a community, but when it came down to it, they treated people so poorly.”
Grearson hosted a networking night on Wednesday at the Brooklyn Brewery for people shut out of Third Ward and invited representatives from about two dozen arts groups to talk about what they have to offer. Approximately 200 folks turned out and many in attendance at the event say the end of Third Ward will actually benefit the arts community because it has forced crafts-people to network with each other and move on to different projects.
“Now people will be scattered throughout all of these awesome organizations,” Grearson said.