The Pied Piper
Jason Goodman gives a home to the creative idiot savants of Brooklyn
Story by Alyson Sheppard / Photography by Ellen Jong
Glass of water, cup of coffee, can of Busch. Jason Goodman offers all three on an afternoon tour of 3rd Ward, his art and design collective located in a converted Bushwick, Brooklyn warehouse. As executive director and cofounder of the D.I.Y. haven, he’s allowed to drink while looking in on jewelry-making classes and speaking over the roar of table saws and patting iMac-glued video editors on their backs as he walks by.
“It’s really impossible to come to 3rd Ward and not be inspired,” Goodman says. “There’s so much cool shit being made here all of the time, it boggles my mind.”
The building is bright and spacious, drawing freelancers, artists and designers into a community where precious equipment and resources are plentiful and shared. Members pay fees for access to the center’s photo studios, metal shops and power outlets, and can take night and weekend classes on designing anything from screenprints to websites.
“Me, my team and my members believe we can do anything,” he says. “All of these idiot savants move to Brooklyn and we have a place where they can fail before they succeed.”
Goodman, 31, says he designed 3rd Ward to be a catalyst for great work and he does everything he can to make sure it is happening. He asks members what they want and he gets it; he leaves 3rd Ward open for long hours and offers free coffee so the artists can stay awake; he gives all new members a single-speed bike, presumably so they can more easily cart their asses out to Bushwick’s warehouse district. Members smile when they see him coming, not just because he understands what they need, but because he was one of them. He is one of them.
Like many transplants, Goodman and friend Jeremy Lovitt moved to New York to become professional artists in 2004. Disillusion set in early when they couldn’t make cash for rent or Ramen. They began working odd construction jobs during the day and trying to keep up their art and design aspirations at night. But they desperately needed access to resources like a media studio and woodworking shop, as did their artist friends. So Goodman and Lovitt decided to build their own.
They began leasing their 20,000-square-foot warehouse on Morgan Avenue in September of 2005 with no business plan. Eight months later with the help of their friends, 3rd Ward was open. To raise rent money and alcohol funds early on, they threw extravagant Burning Man-style parties. Goodman says they learned how to run the business just like that—just doing it. And if 3rd Ward’s growth over the past five years is any testament, the Bushwick MBA is a valuable commodity.
Today the 3rd Ward headquarters, which is shared with the group Artists Wanted, has nearly doubled in floor space, has hired two dozen permanent employees and has opened a second location and food cart in Williamsburg. They now have 750 members and earn an annual revenue of about $1.5 million.
“Creativity is not just a commodity,” says Goodman, who is now helping members sell their work (think: 3rd Ward furniture lines) in stores across the city. “I don’t believe there are creative people and noncreative people. I don’t believe that. Everyone has ideas.”
Third Ward offers 100 classes per quarter for novices, dabblers and professionals alike taught by 55 independent teachers. The clientele is equally male and female. During a typical day, the wood and metal shops are primarily packed with full-time male carpenters and welders, but at night, the opposite is true; the shops are bursting with female hobbyists, learning how to make things they rarely get the chance to make anywhere else.
The members are all also relatively young—mid-20s to late-40s. The freelance industry has boomed for this age group over the past few years, as more and more can’t find stable work and frankly don’t want it.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’re just going to get what you’ve always gotten,” Goodman says, not going so far as to personally nudge people out of their cubicles. He relishes in the co-working, skill sharing and experimentation he watches unfold regularly in his shops.
Within the next few months, a renovated upstairs space will open and hold expanded photo studios, wood shops and art installations. In an exclusive to CITY, Goodman revealed that 3rd Ward will be expanding elsewhere in New York City in 2011. He is currently settling on the building and says he’ll decide what kind of different, ambitious facilities to install after pinpointing where it will be located.
And while Goodman has been asked to build 3rd Ward incarnations to help spur creativity elsewhere, like in Detroit’s crumbling cityscape, he has resisted expanding thus far because he wants to stay focused on New York, where his friends are.
“There’s something special happening in Brooklyn right now,” Goodman says, “and I really want to be here and be a part of it.”
So what advice does he have for people who live far away and want access to a similar collaborative workspace? Goodman grins and takes a swig of beer. “Move to Brooklyn.”