Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

3rd Ward

by Roslyn Helper

03 May 2011

One of the biggest challenges working as an artist in the city, is actually finding somewhere to work as an artist in the city.

For example, “Oh I just had this great idea to build a 10 metre tall happiness-powered windmill that shoots paint with its propellers onto large sheets of canvas in response to the levels of laughter in the room”.

The important part of that sentence is "in the room".

What room?

Now take this idea to New York where spare room is a luxury so uncommon you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if it sat you down and said squarely to your face, “Make me into a 20 000 square foot souped-up artist’s warehouse”.

Enter3RD Ward, a 20 000 square foot souped-up artist’s warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Founders Jason Goodman and Jeremy Lovitt opened the doors in 2006 after convincing a skeptical landlord it was definitely worth spending half a million dollars in renovations to create a space for New York’s independent    creatives to work, play and learn.

I took a tour of the warehouse and had a chat with Marketing and Events Director Jessica Tom to figure out whether 3RD Ward is a genius, money-making lifestyle ploy luring space-seeking artists into a bank-breaking contract or a genuine effort to cater to a new, independently sustainable workforce of artists. What I found was a bit of both, sort of like a gymnasium for creative people.

3RD Ward is nestled within Brooklyn’s “3RD Ward” manufacturing district amongst a post-industrial plethora of low-slung warehouses concealing illegal mattresses and refrigerators, artists and students with cash-in-hand jobs and second hand bicycles.

But this place is legit. White walls, raw floorboards and a quirky, eclectic assortment of retro furniture adorns the sparse, streamlined architecture. Everything has been planned meticulously. Tom takes me past cluttered work benches, through rooms buzzing with saws and drills and dim labs pulsing with the tap-tap-tapping of computer keyboards. Upstairs, the warehouse is blissfully un-renovated, a cavernous light-filled carpenter’s haven where a pair of artists are working on a moving paper mache installation for a shop front window display.

Goodman and Lovitt have taken the basic idea of an arts collective, recognizing the importance of pooling resources and sharing communal space to reduce costs for artists and married it with a profit-based business model.

I assume the rent on the property is pretty high, but according to Tom they have it pretty well sorted. Tom explains that 3RD Ward is not a traditional collective as it is not actually owned by the members. “The best organizations are for-profit,” she declares. Members pay a monthly rate for access to a wood and metal shop, photography studios, a jewellery studio, a digital media lab, personal work space, a multitude of interdisciplinary classes offered throughout the year, unlimited free coffee and a 3RD Ward bicycle for keeps. Some artists work there 9-5, some drop in whenever they feel like it. “We are promoting an ideas industry, catering to the new independent creative workforce,” she concludes.

From what I can see, that is indeed what 3RD Ward is doing, though unfortunately I didn’t see any 10 metre tall happiness-powered windmills.