3rd Ward: A Memorial

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3rd Ward Lo Logo End

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.

Moving Way Too Fast

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.

Thanks For The Memories

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.

Outside Morgan Ave. subway stop

Across the street from 3rd Ward

Outside 3rd Ward

Don’t forget to press one of these thumbnails!!

In The End It Was The Members

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?


11 thoughts on “3rd Ward: A Memorial

  1. Pingback: My Spring Web Design Classes 2014 | Personal, One-On-One, Web Design Training |Joy Of Code

  2. Interesting to hear your experience as a teacher. I had always had a good experience at 3rd Ward, I particularly learned a lot in your class. I thought it was weird that they would put job listings for handymen but the pay would be a class as opposed to money.

    About a week before 3rd Ward closed I was contemplating buying my friend a class for his birthday. Good thing I didn’t! When I saw their email I forwarded it to my friends straight away with the subject “?!?!?”.

    3rd Ward will be missed πŸ™

    • Anna

      Thanks for your nice words.

      Good thing you didn’t buy that present for your friend.

      As for job listings – how do you think I felt when I’d see job listings for what I taught after getting really good evils from students? That was a real morale booster!! πŸ™‚

      I used to think, “Just how many WordPress and web design teachers does 3W really need?”

      • Wow, Bud – I’m sure it must have been frustrating to see job listings for your position! Also, I think you mean “reviews” as opposed to “evils” :).

        I definitely learned the most in your HTML class – I guess maybe they had a lot of interest in HTML if they were posting for your position?

        Do you know what will happen to the space?

        • Oh no. I mean evals. Oops on that. And evals are reviews. I was not listening carefully enough when I replied.

          After awhile I didn’t mind so much when they were looking for more people to do what I did. I just figured what I taught was popular and I could not and did not want to be the only one to teach that stuff.

          I don’t know what they will do with that space. How about NYSC? Or a 16 plex?

  3. One of the best things about 3rd Ward was the creative environment they managed to create. From the teachers, lecturers and students, the whole scene was truly inspiring. Even though my commute wasn’t that great, I still felt the need to attend whether it was for a lecture or art show, just so I could continue to be around like minded individuals from different walks of life. The fact that you could learn a new skill set at a reasonable price was also very enticing. The words “too good to be true” couldn’t apply more to 3rd Ward closing situation and that truly is a bummer.

    • Hey Andrew, No1. Yankee Fan and Unforgettable Student!

      Too good too be true? I agree.

      There was a vibe in that place that was hard to define but you nailed it real good. The place had a buzz that is very hard to create and will be missed by anyone who ever felt it. I always thought it was an honor to teach there because in some small way maybe I was contributing to that buzz.

      But as far as a commute goes mine had to be worse than anyones!!

  4. Hi,
    Read somewhere that not only did the Philadelphia expansion cost more than hoped for, but also the new cooking space in the main 3rd Ward. I was a very early member, and I would have loved to see this place survive…

    • Wondering if you mean by “cooking space” you mean the Coffee Shop? I was always joking that the place needed a Starbucks in it and when they finally made something it was pretty fancy which was an expense they could have lived without.

  5. Hey Bud,
    I found this article very interesting and sad. Thanks for sharing it with me. Maybe some day someone might start another place like 3rd Ward again and build it more slowly with careful planning too.

    • I’m sure someone will.

      It took about 6 years to get where they got but then in the final 18 months they put there foot on the accelerator and drove off the cliff.