Willoughby and Baltic
|Willoughby and Baltic|
|Country||United States of America|
|State or District||Massachusetts|
Willoughby and Baltic, founded as an art gallery, in 2001, became home to DorkbotBoston in January 2005. It then went through several iterations of hackerspace, achieving a high of 95 members. In October 2008, Willoughby and Baltic acquired two additional locations. Less than a year later it consolidated to a single large space at 13 Joy Street.
There was much political strife around Willoughby and Baltic centering on leadership issues. Many people left offended. In March of 2010 control of Willoughby and Baltic passed from Meredith to David. See the announcement. The corporation dissolved in April, and in May of 2010 the remainder of the organization merged with Artisan's_Asylum.
Updated July 11, 2003. I'm Meredith Garniss and I owned W&B. I'm tired of the history of W&B being rewritten by those who weren't there, so I'm putting this out here.
It's a long one, so make yourself a cup of tea and read the long, long tale of the W.B....
I founded Willoughby and Baltic in May of 2001 as my private painting studio that I sometimes shared with other artists. The walls of the studio became a free gallery space in 2003 while I continued to use the space as my studio. As time went on, the offerings at W&B expanded to include classes, events, and performance art. Willoughby and Baltic hosted many groups for free in the space, including dorkbotBoston which I started with Roy Pardi at the end of 2005. dorkbotBoston grew to over 250 members between 2006 and 2008 and usually met once a month.
Willoughby and Baltic was not considered a hackerspace. It was more akin to Machine Project in L.A., where different events would happen at different times. It was considered an art space as it mostly supported those in the arts. Willoughby and Baltic was not profit motivated, and we would joke that it was a "no profit" instead of a "non-profit". Our slogan was "think small". But the lack of concern over money gave the space a certain freedom, and allowed the space to reflect a certain counterculture and bohemian vibe that was embodied in Davis Square.
As dorkbotBoston grew, the dorkbot events started to take more space and time at W&B. There were at least three different subgroups of dorkbotBoston looking to form some kind of hackerspace/makerspace/industrial design space. None of them seemed very far along in the process of defining what they wanted. I was looking to grow the classes at W&B, and had even formed a non-profit to help build an adult education cooperative two years earlier. It seemed that the goals could be symbiotic.
At one point an opportunity came up to rent a machine shop nearby. We all looked at the space, but none of the sub-groups stepped up to rent the space, and the door was closing on the opportunity as the owner of the shop needed to be in Seattle to teach in September, and needed time for a handoff. At the last minute, I decided to rent it as an extension of W&B because the opportunity was too good to pass up. When some of the members groused that they didn't have a "hackerspace", I expanded W&B into the space above the subway sandwich shop next door. When I did an informal survey to find out what people were willing to contribute, the top amount they felt they could afford was $1000 a year. So that's how the yearly fee was decided. Any differences between membership fees and the costs of running the space would be made up with classes, events, and I figured maybe even a terrible puppet show if things got really rough. In the meantime, I would bootstrap it.
I put up the first, last, and security and then started collecting money from the group. I personally guaranteed the lease and secured insurance and utilities out of my own pocket. We had agreed we would never have more than 70 members to keep the group manageable, with members being able to chose from between a $1000 yearly cost, a $275 quarterly cost, and a $100 monthly cost. We had about 38 paying members at the start, and about half of the original members chose to put in the $1000 cost. I figured I would repay myself back the first, last and security when we knew we had covered the first year's rent. So we started out with $22,000-$25,000 in up front capital, plus about $10k from me. We also had a $3000 donation from Microsoft. The rest of the members were non-paying and would instead staff the machine shop.
There were never 95 members and I have no idea where that number came from. We maybe had 95 members total over the life of W&B, but not at one time. I had stopped actively soliciting members after the first 6 months. The most paying members we ever had simultaneously was around 50 or maybe as high as 55, but the average monthly membership for the first year was closer to 35. We had a lot of turnover, but usually we gained enough monthly members to hover at 35 paying members. We needed a monthly average of between 55 and 60 per month to be sustainable by membership. Between the end of the first year and the beginning of the second year, the focus switched from membership to classes. Most of the people who took classes didn't become members.
Yes, there was much political strife around the leadership of W&B. Many people in the group thought that they should be in charge. Most of them had no clue about the financial state of the organization, and maybe more tellling.. they never asked. Most members didn't even care how W&B had been funded for the previous 7 years. Most of the members of the shop knew little of the history of Willoughby and Baltic, and didn't care to know. As far as they were concerned, the space began when they arrived. They dubbed themselves "the community" and alienated the community that had built W&B over the previous 7 years, which was a frustrating thing to experience.
At the beginning, it seemed as though we all believed leadership would emerge organically from the membership base and I'd be able to focus on classes. I was hoping this would be true as well. I didn't want to be the day-to-day manager. But the group dynamics immediately turned into a power struggle with different factions politicking me and other members, and none of it was constructive. There was no fair solution, so I decided at this point that I needed to look outside the group for leadership. Until I found it, I told the group that I would be in charge. I told the group that I would rather that they hate me than hate each other.
This was not a popular decision, but at least the members had stopped fighting amongst themselves. Unfortunately, it was because I was the common enemy. So, I began to construct a board of objective people from outside W&B.
I told the membership we would vote on future decisions, with each person getting a vote. This was so offensive to some of the membership that I was screamed at over and over again, until there was no point in voting. It would have been just another excuse for people to fight. Several people said that they didn't join the group to vote, they joined to run the group. But of course, many other people thought that they should be the ones to run the group, and others felt like they were being bullied. I didn't understand why a voting system was so terrible, and I still don't. I also couldn't understand how people who had told me they were makers who needed space had all of a sudden become managers who wanted to run a makerspace.
Many people left the group. Some left because they believed that their membership fee entitled them to be in charge. Some left because no one was making anything. Some left because they were hoping for a higher technical level in the group. Some left because I refused to edit the group. Some left because of the gossiping and lying within the group. Some people left because I wouldn't turn the organization over to the "community". Two left over being bullied by other members. One person left because they heard me being called a bitch and was angry that I didn't end that person's membership. And some left because they only had one small project to make, they made it and then didn't need to be there regularly. People joined for all sorts of reasons, and people left for all sorts of reasons.
Things got so rough that members stopped coming to status update meetings citing the "unpleasant trolling" that was happening. So the status meetings ended. I didn't like being trolled either. I believed the group was just wound-up, and would calm down in time and just kept my head down and kept moving forward.
By March of 2009, a few things seemed clear. There still was tension in the group, but it wasn't as chaotic. There were some good dynamics happening in the machine shop. There wasn't a steady stream of projects, but there were a few successful ones. Classes were beginning to run, and the teachers had stopped being politicked by the members to give them classes for free. So, there was progress, but we were just at the beginning. I was cautiously optimistic.
I believed the next step was to consolidate all the spaces into one where projects could get bigger and the hackerspace and machine shop could merge. I thought this would help with the divided group, and allow for more crossover of ideas and projects. In April I held an "invitation only" meeting with the group, and didn't invite the biggest trolls. There was a very good turn out and people seemed positive. It was the first meeting in a long time where people seemed to get along and the meeting didn't descend into political warfare. I wished I had done it sooner.
I also thought a larger space might allow us to consider projects that could reflect an industrial arts/engineering perspective. I thought the place could be a bridge across a gap that always existed in Somerville, and that I could reach into the voc. tech community and offer employment.
In April I rented 13 Joy Street with a two year lease. I put up first, last and security. But since the shop wasn't set up yet, I also needed to keep the original machine shop so that the people who had paid for a yearly machine shop space could finish out the year and we could finish out the lease. The lease on the machine shop didn't end unti August and we needed it while we worked on the new space. So from May of 2009 to August of 2009, we were now paying $3500 a month for Joy Street, plus $1500 a month for the original machine shop. By this time the membership money had run out-- except for the quarterly and monthly payments-- so I was bootstrapping the move to the new space. The three spaces didn't officially get combined until September of 2009, a full year after the start of the first space.
I had found out in March that my father had a pancreatic tumor and would need a Whipple procedure over the summer. I felt hopeful he would endure the surgery and at least feel better for a while. But going to New York to be with him for the surgery would mean that I wouldn't be around during a key time in the move.
The new space had nothing in it. No desks, no equipment, nothing. I bought $1300 worth of electronic benches and paid $600 to have them moved. I also paid the moving company more money to move the contents of 195g and 197 elm street to the new location as we didn't have volunteers with vehicles to move large items. This was all out of my pocket. A large part of the move happened during the days when I was away and one of the members took the time to meet the movers and make sure everything got moved in. I don't know what I would have done without him.
I bought a Bridgeport and a lathe, also out of pocket from one of the new board members. The startup expenses seemed endless. I paid $2000 to an architect to draw up plans to submit to the city. On the architect's advice, I delayed giving the plans to the city, as we would only have two years from the time of submission to execute the plans. The longer we could drag it out the better.
I bought a forklift for $600, moved it for $300, and then spent another $600 and three weeks of research to get it going with golf cart batteries. The members installed the batteries, built a shelf on top of the forklift and dubbed it "hellraiser".
I bought a forge, and a welder, all out of my own pocket. The group simply didn't have the money, and I was less interested in soliciting members than in trying to structure classes.
I had already bought all the gas tanks for the welders out of my own pocket and had been paying for the welding gas both for the classes and the members projects. One member paid $50 once to fill the canisters, but I was filling them every two weeks. I also paid out of pocket for sets of safety helmets and gloves and everything that was needed to run the classes in the new space.
After the first year of W&B, some of the old members were still angry about the fall out of W&B, and had started DDOS attacks on the website. In fact, attacking W&B seemed like their pastime. The angry group started ugly rumors, hacked my accounts, hacked some of the members accounts, and made lots of excuses for acting out. My email was spoofed repeatedly, and the petty cash bank account number was posted online. The police thought it was likely that my social security number had ended up online.
One of the former members even spread a rumor that I had heckled him in front of a crowd of people. When one of the people standing next to me pointed out that this didn't happen, he apologized to the person standing next to me, agreed that I may not have actually heckled him, and then continued to tell people that I had heckled him. One person was concerned that the accuser might have schizophrenia, so I kept quiet and refocused on the space. But weirdness like this was not unusual. One time someone started a rumor that I had been cheating on my boyfriend. Since I didn't have a "boyfriend", this was unlikely. It was juvenile. And it made me realize how little I had known about the members before inviting them in. And how little they knew about me. It's amazing how little you can know about people you've known for years.
All the antics were just reinforcing my belief that I had made the right decision to move authority outside of the group.
When we moved into the new space, I pulled the remaining members together, and told them that the money from the membership wasn't the important thing. If they could pay in, they should. But if they couldn't, then they could pay by volunteering-specifically by teaching a class and sharing knowledge. This was good because about a quarter of our members were unemployed at any one time. And when members lost their jobs, I allowed them to come in without paying. It wasn't about the money, and I knew that staying busy and focused and productive during that time was very important. I also wanted to recapture some of the spirit of the old Willoughby and Baltic.
But I wasn't sure how long I could justify having members in the space. After discussions with Tim and Larry (the start of the new board), I realized that I needed to focus on getting the space financially solid, and the membership was a time sink and I was subsidizing them financially. I had been for a while. So from August to December of 2009, I collected about $3250 from the members total, which didn't even cover the cost of one month's rent, never mind other expenses. I couldn't make a long term commitment to them. The writing was on the wall. Tim calculated out that the most effective size space for holding classes based on ideal and what we were common space was about 5,000 square feet. We had 9,000 square feet. He suggested that I divide the space in two, and give the members one side to rent for their hackerspace and I could use the other for classes. It was a good idea, but the space couldn't be divided because of the layout of the bathrooms. On top of that, I had concerns about being able to collect the rent from the members. I had no idea if they could become self-sustainable, or if anyone credit-worthy would be willing to sign a lease.
For the classes, I thought I could put together a comprehensive curriculum that would link voc tech /engineering and prototyping tools. I wasn't so interested in offering random classes. W&B had been giving random open classes for years. The space would require a sizable investment, and I wanted the outcome of the learning experiences to be worth the investment Ideally, we'd be able to offer college credits for the classes.
So I started interviewing professional tradesmen. But when I described the typical demographic of the members and most likely the future students, the reaction was always negative. The tradesmen were universally telling me that they didn't want to work with students or people from the "Ivy League" or academia. The fabricators had a strong resentment toward "the elites". As one candidate told me "Yeah, I know those people. I fix their mistakes all day long." This didn't happen with just one candidate, it happened with 8 of them. So, I started spending my time trying to re-organize a curriculum that was more prototype based than fabrication based, and more design based than tool based. I realized that to truly bridge the gap between voc tech and "makerspace", you need to start with younger people. To work with younger people, you need the right space. And I didn't have it. So, I was lost and would need to take a step back and do more research and talk to more people. This would take time.
While I was getting the new space together, my grandmother died, then one of my cousins died unexpectedly. And I had already had a loss over the summer. So I had limited my involvement in the space to about 20 hours per week on site. With another 20 in admin from home when it was convenient. I moved my art projects to my house.
In December I gathered the members together. The classes were going alright, but the membership continued to lose us money. I told the group that the membership's relationship to the organization was a drain, and that things would need to change in order to keep going. One of the members smirked and told me that if I wanted them to help out I would have to turn everything over to them. They weren't getting it. And I was having trouble telling them to leave. The whole thing was just sad.
In the meantime, we had no heat in our space The landlord had the gas meter removed and never replaced. I spoke to the landlord and he said to call the utilities and have the meter put back on. The gas company said that it would require an inspections. I wasn't sure the building would pass the inspection, and when I told the landlord this, he told me I would be financially responsible for anything that needed to be done to pass the inspection. So I passed this off to my lawyer.
I also hadn't switched the electric under the name of W&B. I had called the electric company, but they didn't know what all the meters were that went to that unit. There hadn't been anything listed for the last five years and didn't believe the electric was still on. They told me to get the meter numbers from the landlord and call them back. The landlord didn't have the list of meter numbers offhand, and I was told by the guys downstairs that the electric company would eventually come out and I'd hear from them. But they never came out. I figured I would get a bill or the lights would get shut off, but there was nothing.
The lawyer came back to me in January and said that if the landlord didn't hook up the gas meter, the lease was null and void and the landlord owed us some money. One of the few things a commercial landlord must provide is some mechanism by which to heat the space. He could have made us pay to install more blowers or a bigger furnace if we wanted for comfort, but without the meter, the space couldn't be heated, and this was illegal unless spelled out in the lease, which it wasn't. There isn't much a commercial landlord is responsible for, but providing some mechanism for heat is one of the responsibilities.
So, I knew the lease wasn't an issue. The attorney told me that once I had everything moved from the space, I should write a letter to the landlord stating that the heat was never hooked up, and list our damages and tell him the lease was void. He thought the landlord might threaten to take me to court, and it would certainly get unpleasant, but doubted it would ever get that far. And if he sued me, we would countersue for damages to the business for not having heat.
I had told a few people that I was thinking of closing things up, but there was still enough of a group there that I was fairly sure that they would want to try to keep it going. I decided to find a new space for myself, and then help the group transition or close.
I rented a space for myself in Lincoln at the beginning of February, and I remember speaking to my father around the 13th of the month and telling him I was going to go back to a private studio for a while and focus on education. He thought this was a good plan and said he'd be coming up from Florida in a few weeks and was looking forward to seeing my new space, the new house, and sitting down and talking about the business with me. I told him I was shutting down the Somerville space, and I was worried about what would happen to the people from the Somerville group. He told me to just take care of myself, that he loved me and he would see me soon. That was the last time I would speak to my father.
On the 14th of February I met with about ten members of the group and told them I was shutting things down. I once again made the offer that if someone wanted to take over the space, they could. David Stokes said that he would take over the space, and we had some things to work out. That week I met with David and told him that for him to take over the lease and the space, the landlord needed to sign a release. Just making a new lease wouldn't be enough. If he was unable to get my name off the lease, the group wouldn't be able to stay.
I believed that if David could show the landlord there was a better chance of collecting the rent from the group than from me, the landlord would sign the release and be willing to work with David. The most important thing was to NOT give the landlord any money until the release was signed, but to let the landlord know that the money was there and the rent would be paid once the release was signed.
I drew up the release paperwork and David Stokes signed it to indicate that he understood that this was required. The contract would not be valid without the signature of the landlord. I brought all the money I had collected from the members in late January plus half of February rent to the landlord and gave him the release to sign. He said he would look at it. So everything was current as of the date I left. It was all up to them now.
And whether they made it or not, the landlord wasn't getting any more money from me.
That Thursday my father had a stroke. it was a massive aneurism that happened while he was teaching at Lynn University.
I needed to go to Florida to say goodbye to my father before they took him off life support. I flew down the morning of the 20th and said goodbye to him at the hospital. I arrived back at Logan after midnight on my birthday on the 21st and checked my messages when I got off the plane. My father was dead and the funeral would be on Wednesday. The obituary would go in the paper, and the body flown back up to Boston. None of it felt real, and I think it took several months for me to fully process what had happened.
it was a few hours after the funeral that I started getting calls that the electrical was out in the space. I was told that the circuit breaker box had "exploded" and the main circuit was lost. Other people said that the main circuit breaker looked like it had been removed. This made no sense as breakers don't just fall out of electrical boxes. Someone had obviously known I wouldn't be there when I was at the funeral, and taken the main breaker and messed with the box to try to screw up the space. I pretended I didn't know who had done it. The other members of the group pretended that they didn't know what happened. And some may not have wanted to believe people would act this way.
I wasn't sure why they were calling me as this was now David's issue, but there didn't seem to be anyone there who could deal with this, and I wanted to see it for myself.
So in the middle of my family crisis, I headed down to the space. There was no main circuit breaker anywhere. Someone had taken it. My friends were livid. I was just numb and was glad to cut my connections with this group. The members of the group suggested that it had been taken by the electric company as a way to shut of the electric, but this is not how they work. They shut off electric from the street. Someone else told me he was sure the landlord took it, but the landlord didn't and wouldn't as it would jeopardize his receiving the rent. But I said "yeah sure, it was the landlord."
And suddenly, a day or two later, the main circuit breaker was back in place. There was no explanation. There didn't need to be one. I knew. As far as the other members were concerned, I guess they must have chalked it up to a miracle.
So David and I sat down, and I explained to David that the only thing the group owned was the jump shear and the soldering irons. That was all they had paid for. He said he knew this, but if I took everything out of the space, no one would join. And he felt that I should put out a message immediately saying that he was in charge so he could begin to collect money to use to pay the rent and persuade the landlord to sign the release.
I put out the message that David was now in charge, And I told David I would leave some of the tools there for a while, and if we were able to get the transition done, he could keep some of it. I was moving houses and setting up a new studio and dealing with the death of my father anyway, and if it helped them get going then it was ok for now.
My agreement with David was that he would set up his own entity. I would hold on to my entity, and once all agreements were met, the W&B name would transfer to him to use. This way it would be clean. Any debts incurred by me while operating my company were mine, as well as any assets. Any debts or liabilities incurred by him shouldn't affect me, and I couldn't claim ownership of anything that was purchased by his entity. They were two separate entities that would have a name pass between them. I wrote this to David in an email, and David indicated that he understood.
I stopped paying the insurance on the space, stopped all W&B accounts, and took a couple of truckloads of my stuff out of the space. Then I went home to pack to move into the new house and set up the new studio. I told some of the members of the old space I was calling the new space the New England Center for Innovation (or something like that), and I set up a fake website under that name. Then I went to work in setting up 6smith while they hacked the other site.
In the meantime, the landlord was saying that he wasn't going to sign a release. He didn't see any evidence that David could pay the debt. So, I told David he needed to get the money together, but not give it to the landlord until the release was signed. In the meantime, there was to be no money coming from me as there would be no reason for the landlord to sign the release if I kept paying.
The group didn't get enough money together to pay the March 1 payment, and by March 15 the landlord was getting antsy. David characterized it by saying that the landlord was holding the space hostage in return for money, which I think was his way of saying that the landlord wanted the rent.
David assured me that he was getting a $5000 donation and that he would be sending that in to pay the rent soon. I think David's intentions were good. But I reminded him that he should not give the landlord the rent until the release was signed, because he wouldn't be able to stay even if he paid the rent if the release wasn't signed. He would essentially be paying the rent for my company, not his, and i was shutting down my company.
David formed a board with Peter and Jimmie on the board of his new company. But the electricity had now been turned off, and this time it was for real. The reality was that they needed the release to be signed, a new lease issued and an agreement set up with the electrical company. I needed them to do this too so I could go away. They blamed the lack of electricity on me, but the reality is, they wouldn't have had electric in any space that they didn't have a lease. And right now, they didn't have a lease and weren't even paying the rent.
When it looked like the transition wasn't going to work, I suggested they take the money and go across the street to Joy Street Studios and start up in a smaller, less expensive space.
At some point, David's group tried to open a commercial account. They were told by the bank that they needed to file articles of organization or incorporation with the state first. I remember someone posting a note on the Willoughby and Baltic reorg google group saying that they had decided not to incorporate as they didn't want the responsibiltiy. So, this thing was dead in the water. I took this as notification that the handoff was dead since they didn't form a company to fulfill our agreement.
In the meantime, the landlord was getting more and more angry, and was threatening to take all the contents of the space and liquidate it to pay off the rent. This wasn't exactly legal, but I decided I should go over there with whomever I could grab and save as much stuff as possible. So I found a bunch of guys with two vans, and I emailed David Stokes and told him I'd be taking some stuff. I asked him in writing if he wanted to be there so he would be clear what I was taking, but he simply replied that he didn't need to be there.
There was no notice on the door, but that didn't mean anything. One of the members may have removed it. And so the guys took as much of the valuable smaller items that they could fit in the vans in two trips. We made sure not to take the soldering irons, Makerbot, jump shear or anything that personally belonged to the members. I remember Peter saying later that he was going to take the Makerbot to Sprout for safe keeping.
I wasn't able to move the blue desks, the bridgeport, the lathe, the large sofa, the shelves or the forklift in that trip. I also had lots of smaller, less expensive items still there.
So, we moved what we could, and I started working on finding a moving company that would move the Bridgeport and the Lathe for me in exchange for giving them the forklift. David was still saying he was just about to come up with the money, but the reality was the costs were snowballing, everything was still under my name, the landlord had lost faith and now would never sign a release to allow David to take over, and I just really needed to get things resolved and move on. I felt I had given him a chance to at least begin to put some things in place, but the group didn't seem interested.
i think it was a short time after this I saw an announcement that said "Artisans Asylum has taken over Willoughby and Baltic". This was a total fabrication, and the emails seemed to be sent by the same trolls from the original W&B. I figured David had rented space to Gui, and this was just another spun up story from that group. I emailed David who told me to email Gui, who didn't respond to the email.
My father's memorial was held at the concert hall that was named after him at Lynn University. The students who were in the class when he got sick were there, and they were still pretty shook up. I still hadn't processed that he was gone. It would take a while. I figured that given my luck the plane would crash on my way back from Florida. But it didn't. So I still had to deal with cleaning out W&B.
I came back to find my inbox full of emails from people telling me that while I was gone, Artisan's Asylum had held an emergency auction and auctioned off all my stuff. This happened without any notice to me or communication to me from either David or Artisans Asylum. As far as I knew, I was still securing the lease at Joy Street, and had no idea why Artisans Asylum was there, and couldn't get any communication. It was only after I mentioned to a few people connected with Artisans Asylum that I had contacted an attorney that I finally got a response from Gui. He said he had a new lease and had gotten me off of the old one. But later the landlord would say that a release was never signed, and the new lease was an addendum to mine. If this is true, this was without my knowledge or consent. And it seems likely.
And that is how Willoughby and Baltic ended.
If there are questions about Willoughby and Baltic, I'd be happy to answer them directly.