A couple of weeks ago, a good friend called to tell me the news.
He asked if I had heard that 3rd Ward had closed its doors. Did I know it was bankrupt? Had I seen the article At Once-Promising Brooklyn Arts Center, Creative Hopes Are Dashed in the NYT?
Well, this certainly would account for not receiving any promotional emails for some time. (I had just commented about that to my wife, Arlene, a few days before.)
My first — and lasting — reactions to the closure were shock and sadness. As someone who was hired to teach HTML, CSS, and then WordPress in the heady days of March 2012, I had come to love the place. True, I’d usually just parachute in and out to do my three hour stint a couple of times a week. I wouldn’t stick around because of the ninety minute commute.
What I saw just about all the time was a busy beehive of activity — people taking classes in the Industrial Arts, Fine Arts, and Digital Arts. These people were young to middle-aged and largely came from nearby Brooklyn communities, although occasionally I’d meet someone from the city or even far off Connecticut. Most of the people were there because they needed to learn news skills, but I sensed many were there just for the fun of learning something new and useful. That was so cool and was what made 3rd Ward different.
They were always building, refining, and redesigning the place. I’d walk in sometime and say, “Whoa, that big welcome board wasn’t there last week.” Or, “Look at those new classrooms they are building. This place is going places.”
But it didn’t, because it was moving too fast. I knew that just as a distant observer.
I’d wonder why my paycheck would be a week or so late. Must be having money problems, I thought. Then a check bounced earlier this year. “Our CFO said there is plenty of money to cover your check.” Sadly, there wasn’t.
I came to really admire the staff of 3rd Ward, even though the turnover rate among the senior managers was troubling. That was another telltale sign that something might be rotten in Bushwick.
Then, after yet another staff shake up about a year ago, it was announced that teachers would be remunerated based on the number of students who enrolled in a class. I loved that idea, at first. In many cases, teachers should be partners with the places where they work, sharing in the risk and reward of the business.
However, what 3rd Ward did was shift most, if not all, of the risk onto the teachers. Rather than cancel a class due to poor enrollment, now they could run a class even if only one or two students enrolled. Who would pay? The teachers. To be fair, teachers would be paid a lot more if their classes reached full capacity, but the problem was in the pay structure. A teacher was more likely to lose out than win. That’s why I got tired of the whole thing and basically jumped out at the end of June.
I can’t blame 3rd Ward for trying this approach to teacher compensation. But it just didn’t work for me and I’ll bet it didn’t work for other teachers, too.
At the time of my departure, Philadelphia 3rd Ward was launching just behind a major upgrade in their web site and backend technologies. This was all moving way too fast. The Brooklyn operations needed a lot of work – and they were expanding? Yes, I was a believer that 3rd Ward would be in every major city in the US, if not the world, one day. Just not the next day.
But that’s not how Jason Goodman, a 3rd Ward founder, saw it according to the Times. By 2018, 3rd Ward would be a household word. So he thought.
If you took one of my WordPress classes, you might get remininscent when you see my photos which I used to demonstrate the Easy Fancybox plugin. Ah, those were the days.
Don’t forget to press one of these thumbnails!!
I loved the 3rd Ward model. It was très cool that members could join a community education “club” to learn skills they needed to survive and thrive in New York at discounted fees. The students — er, members — were among the most motivated and intelligent people I’ve ever taught. For a web design instructor, that is as good as it gets. It made that long commute worth it.
But I feel bad for the real believers — the people who sunk in over 3Gs to be lifetime members. They’ll be getting back no refunds. That sucks. For the teachers who didn’t get paid or got a bad check — this time there would never be any money to cover it.
If you were a student or if you worked at 3rd Ward, please tell me what you thought about the place. Are you sad like me that a good idea is no more?