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Right around this time last year, 3rd Ward, the popular Brooklyn arts space and co-working hub, was soliciting investors. For a minimum pledge of $5,000, you too could “Own a piece of 3rd Ward!” as a banner on its Facebook page cheered.
It looked like a pretty smart bet, too. What started as a scrappy arts collective had, over the course of seven and a half years, turned into a slick brand with a pop-up shop at Chelsea Market, a shiny new outpost in Philadelphia, and plans for an ambitious culinary institute in the works.
All of that was in addition to the 30,000-square-foot mother ship in Bushwick, complete with a wood shop, metal shop, jewelry and textile studios, a digital photography lab, co-working spaces, and a host of classes on offer.
Founder and CEO Jason Goodman was angling to raise a total of $1.5 million, and by early October the campaign had attracted about $375,000. Then, all at once, the entire operation just sputtered and shut down.
On October 8, students received an email: Classes were canceled. The ones who tried to email 3rd Ward employees got a bounce-back informing them those employees no longer worked there. One teacher actually showed up ready to hold class, only to be told 3rd Ward was closed. Indefinitely.
The same day, a note was appended to 3rd Ward’s Fundrise page, home to the $1.5 million campaign: “Due to the fact that 3rd Ward has shut down operations, we have discontinued this offering,” it said. It would only later emerge that that $1.5 million wasn’t meant to finance new projects — it was the amount Goodman needed just to stabilize 3rd Ward.
At the time, Robin Grearson, a Brooklyn-based writer, wasn’t teaching at 3rd Ward anymore, but she reached out to Goodman to express her sadness that the space was closing. “I sent him a note of condolence, and said, ‘I really hope you pay the teachers,’ ” Grearson tells the Voice.
It has been almost a year since the Brooklyn space abruptly shuttered. The woodworking equipment was sold off for cash, and a tech company, Livestream, has taken over its old building, but there still has not been a complete accounting of the cost.
When all of the unpaid invoices, the unfulfilled classes, the unused studio time are tallied up, what was the total bill that Goodman stuck the 3rd Ward community with? That’s the number Grearson set out to find in August.
Grearson isn’t owed any money herself. She used to teach writing classes at 3rd Ward, but she, along with several other teachers, left a few months before it shut down, when the company shifted from paying teachers by the hour to paying them per student. It was she, not Goodman, who organized a big, cathartic event at the Brooklyn Brewery for members of the community after the space closed.
“My heart went out to those people who lost their jobs,” she says. “It felt like they lost their connection to each other.”
The day after 3rd Ward shut its doors, instructors were told via email to address any questions about their invoices to CFO Nick Alexander. Fifty-one teachers whom Grearson has spoken with have outstanding invoices. Exactly zero of those teachers have been paid.
In fact, most of the people who were connected to 3rd Ward when it closed, Grearson says, are still owed some amount of money. Students who paid for classes have not been reimbursed; people who bought memberships for the facility were issued “credits” that could be used if 3rd Ward reopened, but are now worthless.
Grearson has talked to hundreds of these people in the last month and a half, and so far her tally of money owed to various members of the community stands at $70,573. The largest chunk of that money, more than $6,000, is owed to one jewelry teacher who was with 3rd Ward almost from the very beginning.
“This is a company that marketed itself as a community,” Grearson says. The fact that Goodman shifted the risk to his teachers — by changing the pay structure from hourly to per-student — and then failed to pay them is, she says, “insulting, offensive, wrong.”
There’s some hope, though: Grearson says that many of the people she’s spoken to are interested in joining together to pursue legal action. In recent weeks, she’s spoken to both a lawyer and an accountant about the best way to do that.
You can follow Grearson’s progress on her website, where you can also find her contact information, in case you’re owed money by 3rd Ward too.