[This is the first article by our collaborator-researcher-friend Mari Baldi, who has an eye on innovative initiatives in New York]
I got off at Morgan Avenue station on the L subway line – it’s in a region called East Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York. The region is impressive because of the old-industrial look, abandoned warehouses, stairways that lead nowhere, tracks with no trains, streets wider than the tree-lined lanes in most of Brooklyn. This scene, which has all the elements that can cause corrosive nostalgia, is broken by the colorful vibration of the abundant graffiti on the walls of the neighborhood. You don’t need to walk more than a block to see that rarefied breadth become like a mother’s womb to us. Informality, or rather the absence of hard shapes, so characteristic of Manhattan buildings, that seem to have been assembled by giants playing with Lego, is a striking feature of the neighborhood, and extends to the different “businesses” that the region includes: numerous shops of organic produce, urban vegetable gardens, art studios, and also the 3rd Ward.
The 3rd Ward is a place for creativity. Open since 2005, the place was an old warehouse, and proposed to be a kind of hub where anyone could rent a workshop and have at their disposal, besides the proper tools, ample space to develop any kind of work (the building has almost 2000 m2). The place began to prosper, and gradually, professionals began to propose workshops of the most diverse types, and the hub became a school.
The 3rd Ward is the paradise of DIY. They have the most different types of classes you can imagine, and most of them are “hands on,” from how to work with metal to how to mix fragrances for perfumes.
Once you get there you can feel the energy of the place right away. The recepcionist, knowing that I was Brazilian, soon put on music by Bezerra da Silva, and with the song Cocada Boa playing, took me by the arm to go and interview everyone.
We talked with the metal workshop teacher, Carlos. With his welding mask under his arm (I said something terribly stupid, saying it looked like Captain America’s helmet, but it actually was the flag of Costa Rica on it, my bad) he told me that one of the key learning elements of the school is to make people remember that things are not ready, that there is a process, and it is generally slower than entering a store, going to the cashier and pulling out the credit card.
“I make people remember that they have two hands.”
In his workshop for beginners, composed of 4 three-hour classes, he teaches students how to cut and weld sheet metal, and to build this amazing speaker for an mp3 player. Cool huh?!
Besides that, he reminds people that working with metals is an ancient craft, and he feels the weight of responsibility and the pride of passing this on. And thus goes the construction of the learning experience, that is more than just new skills, people gain more awareness of the world. Simple and complex at the same time.
This perspective is not only from the teachers, the students also have the same perception. I found a group that had just left the carpentry workshop. Smiling, they showed their newly-made chopping boards (how sweet!).
“When you start making objects that seem simple, you start to appreciate things more. When you spend 4 hours to make a chopping board, as simple as this one, you understand better why things cost what they do.”
The 3rd Ward goes a little further. This talk of an individualistic society, with each person living solely in their own micro-universe; this is the general fact in New York. Although paradoxically people are very friendly and helpful, a common scene is to see everyone immersed in their playlists, with headsets and a do-not-disturb-me face. The 3rd Ward seems to be an oasis for anyone tired of this kind of life. A variety of workshops also brings a variety of students, and there you can find from rock climbers to IT professionals, and the school dedicates itself to getting everyone in touch, as in this workshop called Drink and Draw, where you enter with your drawing tools and they supply beer and someone to model. And it’s free, just come in.
“The bottom line is: learn the value of things; from friendships to objects.”
And the icing on the cake is that the 3rd Ward isn’t expensive for the American pocket (if we convert the Dollar to the Real, everything will seem expensive for us, so in this case I suggest a new currency called “Moneys”). In the U.S. any specialization does not cost less than 20 thousand “Moneys” per year, and scholarships plus good public universities are not as common as in Brazil. At the 3rd Ward, you will pay, if you choose the full package, 3 thousand “Moneys” per year (a nice difference), and you can use all the facilities, which means attending all the classes, use all of the studios, offices, computers, at anytime. If you do not have this full amount of money, there are different packages for different needs. If you are a photographer, for example, and just want to rent a photography studio, you pay 300 “Moneys” per month and can use the photography studios, with some workshops included.
Finally, the 3rd Ward seems to be one more of those many places that connect people to an alternative way of doing what has always been done, in education, as well as in business, and as a way of thinking. It breaks the rigidity of mediocre thoughts that fertilize themselves within a repetitive routine. It even allows you to freshen your thoughts, loosen the knots, and create more space to develop new ideas and creativity. As defined by one of the owners of the school:
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’re just going to get what you’ve always gotten.”
In the end, the photography teacher invited me to attend the class, and I ended up turning into a photographic model in the class of portrait photography. I left there with a super discount for the workshops, an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner and 40 portraits of me. Awesome!