Melissa Wong and Sandra Hong were both coming from men’s worlds: the tech industry, and the restaurant industry, respectively. They knew firsthand that there was a need in their community for a space designed by and focused on women. Hong had already founded Brooklyn-based Girl Party – a once a week series for unconventional gatherings, and Wong had been running a regular women’s networking and peer mentorship meet-up. When a mutual friend put them in touch, they hit it off right away, and decided to see what they could build together. New Women Space was born.
“I’d always wanted to do a community space,” says Wong, “after working at a lot of different tech companies for their community teams. I’d personally made the value judgment that I think people are craving that in-person connection – feeling seen and heard. Which has an altogether different quality than liking or commenting on a post online, or even taking an online class.”
The little pop-up that could
Hong and Wong set out to built a one-month pop-up space for women led and focused events, just to see how it would go, and to find out whether people would respond. Fast-forward ten months: the duo has just renewed their lease for year two (though they desperately need AC installed – see more on that below), and they’ve got over 200 unique events already under their belt. They’ve just brought on 15 new commission-paid program coordinators – each of whom has her own beat, so that the resulting programming spans a wide range from community health and healing to social justice. Think self-care workshops, print and zine fests, writing classes, tutorials on socially/environmentally responsible investing. Three days a week, the space doubles as a co-work space for members, who attend events for free.
“The focus is that we’re women and femme-identified-led programming,” explains Wong. “It’s a ‘by us, for others to learn’ kind of mentality, as far as opening it up to other genders. Men are welcome in the space, but every so often there’s an event that specifies women and femmes only. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. People say ‘wow, this is so awesome. I haven’t really seen a place like this before.’ We had some people from DC here the other day, and they were like ‘oh, I haven’t heard of anything like this back home.’ I think it strikes people as unique.”
The Williamsburg space – which spans the first floor and basement level of a small building – isn’t huge, and maybe that’s a good thing. It lends itself naturally to smaller, more intimate gatherings – in other words, real conversations – rather than see-and-be-seen events. The first level is airy and open, while the basement level is windowless and private – a very safe-feeling space for difficult conversations and delicate subject matters.
Now more than ever
Something extraordinary happened at New Women Space, the week after the election. A print and zine event was on the calendar, slated to take place just days after. “I didn’t know what the energy was going to be,” Wong says, “because everyone was still going through their own processing. But it was just really beautiful. People came in and were just so grateful that the space existed. It was a moment when Sandy and I were both like ‘whoa, okay, it does seem like now more than ever, women want to feel like there’s a place for them.”
If she lets her imagination run wild as to what this next year could bring for NWS, Wong imagines the space becoming more permanent, more financially self-sustaining, and just more full. “I think we would ideally get a little more radical on what it means to be a community space,” she says, “which is really distributing ownership. That could mean having a board. It could mean paying people to help us fill up the space even more than we are now. Just maximizing what we have.”
But first, a little AC?
Want to help NWS reach that kind of permanence and fullness? Well, first, they need a little help with this heat situation. They need AC units! Click here to check out their ioby campaign, which will pay for split system AC units to cool down the space during this muggy New York summer, so that everyone can just get back to the business of helping women feel at home – in themselves, and in their communities.
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.
Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.