Artists Blend Crafts at Bill-burg Studio

Linnea Covington Mar 20, 2007

Bill burg
Kush, a Brooklyn-based artist, works on a “floating sink” in 3rd Ward, a member-based organization offering studio and workspace to artists and creative professionals. Founded May 2006, 3rd Ward currently has 170 members and offers a variety of classes and events. PHOTO: Linnea Covington

The clear blue sky loomed over the desolate warehouses that lined the street; technically, this was East Williamsburg Industrial Valley, and I had arrived at 3rd Ward. The space, officially opened May 1, 2006, at 195 Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn, is the only multimedia workspace and studio in the five boroughs.

Created by two artists, Jason Goodman and Jeremy Lovitt, both 27, in early 2005, 3rd Ward is a member- and volunteermaintained organization constructed to fit the needs of contemporary artists who deal in multidisciplinary art forms. 3rd Ward offers classes and facilities, including gallery space, a wood and metal shop, dance studio, digital media lab, photo studio, recording studio, and office space. The organization is meant to be cost-effective by providing public access to facilities and other artists while still giving members room to do personal work.

While there are other communal studios with a similar mission (see sidebar), there is nothing that offers as much space and different utilities as 3rd Ward.

Goodman and Lovitt said their inspiration to build the 30,000-square foot sworkspace stemmed from their own need for a multidiscipline area. “Where can you go for a photo shoot and digital media lab in one place?” he asked. “Nowhere.”

In the wood and metal shop, the most popular studio, a man was making light fixtures while another was polishing a double drum. “I am thinking of calling it a Kushembe,” said Kush, an artist who was working on building a drum. He explained that his original design is a deviation from the normal style because it doesn’t use animal skin but is made from plywood and the wood of an airplane.

The shop is complete with tools for welding and construction and piles of discarded wood and metal for communal use. “It’s the ‘give a penny, take a penny’ method,” Goodman said, gesturing to the neatly kept pile of boards by the wall.

3rd Ward’s first member, choreographer and dancer Koosil-ja Hwang, said when she came upon the space she was searching for accommodation for the 30 TV sets needed for her “Dance Without Bodies” project. Having just lost a smaller space, she had difficulty finding dance studios that she could afford.

Hwang, 46, discovered 3rd Ward while it was still under construction. “I felt like I found a friend,” she said.

Hwang’s art and situation, said Goodman, are a perfect example of the kind of movements 3rd Ward is aiming to support. A sampling of members includes Sarah Small (freelance photographer for Playgirl and Dresden Dolls), Michael Burns (who does promotional art for Red Bull), The Brooklyn Arts Council and Wolf + Lamb, electronic/minimal musicians.

Though they don’t sell art, 3rd Ward has an exhibition space on the first floor, currently hosting an exhibit called The Dating Show.

Besides the standard yoga and Pilates, 3rd Ward offers classes like modern dance and slow tempo, podcasting, Photoshop, Web design, and welding. One of the newest is a loft-building class taught by Goodman and Lovitt.

In the beginning, 3rd Ward received donations and discounts on equipment and materials from many locations, including Apple Computers and Tekserve. To build the space, they incorporated recycling technology and got most of their supplies from the street and donations. They also used Build it Green! NYC, an Astoria-based non-profit retail outlet specializing in salvaged and surplus building material.

Third Ward’s second floor provides a vast space for photo shoots, filming and events. Brooklyn band TV on the Radio filmed a music video up there and The Danger, a group that coordinates themed parties, has held numerous festivities. Other events include shows staged by indie rock promoter Todd Patrick, aka Todd P.; film festivals; and a weekly “drink and draw,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

Despite the high-profile events and facilities, 3rd Ward was mainly created with the aim of building a lasting community in Brooklyn to aid artists in pursuing their professional careers and creative projects. “They constantly have to be reinventing the way they connect with the community’s needs,” said Hwang. “As long as they do that, they have success in their hands.”

3rd Ward Info: Membership is $60 a month ($360 yearly) and includes discounts on rentals and classes, admission to events, use of the premises and virtual office and opportunities to show work in the gallery. There are currently 170 members. Members of Fractured Atlas can join at no extra cost. 718-715-4961

Beyond 3rd Ward

Three more communal arts organizations worth checking out:

A non-profit member organization in Park Slope, has a 10,000 sq. ft. studio and smaller gallery space for visual artists. Members can also exhibit and sell their work. 168 7th St. •

A collectively-run center for art and activism around since 1980. At 156 Rivington St, they have a print shop, darkroom, computer center and zine library, and volunteers available to help with your project. The name stands for “No rio dinero” – “No river of money.” Facilities require modest fees.

A self-described “art combine” specializing in large-scale performance and public art – elaborate pranks of the “someone-had-to-do-it” type are typical. Offers work space and classes.

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