Natasha Ishak

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As Brooklyn’s community spaces started to shrink and many started to close-up shop, a group of friends in Bushwick grew frustrated. How are these popular DIY spaces not getting enough financial support to survive? That’s when the idea for Withfriends, a member subscription platform for community space organizers, came to fruition.

Taking inspiration from similar payment models like Patreon and museum memberships, Withfriends launched two years ago as an automated way for DIY organizers and community spaces to raise consistent funds to operate, and for locals to give back to their favorite community spaces.

“I’ve always been very frustrated by the fact that even when a space is quite successful—people are totally packing out the place every Friday and Saturday night and throughout the week—it’s become increasingly difficult for them to not get shut down or have to close,” Withfriends Co-founder and COO Joe Ahearn, who co-owned Bushwick’s now shuttered Silent Barn, said.

Financial stability has always been a key issue for the sustainability of community spaces, and the team behind Withfriends—most of whom are local arts supporters and community organizers themselves—wants to change that.

How it works is simple: organizers fill in a quick form on the website and set-up their account page with information and photos for their upcoming events, which only takes a few minutes. When interested locals access the organizer’s account page, they can choose to become a monthly paying member or give a one-time donation. Members pay different monthly fees based on which membership level they sign up for. Supporters will also receive different benefits depending on their tier, like half-priced tickets to the next event and custom swag.

If it sounds like a simple solution to a big problem, well, it is. But the ease that the platform offers event goers who want to support their community spaces makes all the difference in the world. Community and DIY organizers that have joined the platform have seen an increase of 20 percent to 300 percent in their annual income, depending on the size of their operation. 

Michael Lawrence, Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo (Sammus), Frankie Hutchinson (Discwoman), and Victoria Sobel (Project Cooper Union).

The team estimates that they’ve sold more than 75,000 tickets through the platform and raised $391,000 in additional funds for their clients.

“If you can take that momentum when someone is already making a purchase and make that into a sustainable membership without any friction, that creates a level of conversion that you just don’t even see when you’re trying to get membership sign-ups [manually] at the door,” Martha Hipley, who is Withfriends’ CXO and co-founder, explained. The website’s easy-to-use system was also important to attract more community organizers to join.

“People are scared of running a membership program, because traditional membership programs need a full development team to manage prospecting, fulfillment, and communications for members,” Co-founder and CEO Kunal Gupta said. “Withfriends creates simple, solid, modern membership programs that anyone can run by themselves—but we sometimes have to overcome the cultural baggage of the term.”

The platform now works with over 200 DIY and community organizers locally, like HotBox Mobile Sauna, and across the country, such as the Museum of Human Achievement in Austin, and Denver-based DIY Rhinoceropolis.

The community entities that Withfriends supports aren’t limited to performative spaces. They’ve also worked with art collectives, independent bookstores, comedy clubs, experimental galleries, theater venues, freelance productions, and more. Some of their other local clients in the Bushwick-Ridgewood-East Williamsburg pocket include 7 Belvidere, Bel-Air Radio, Darrell Thorne Productions, DRTY SMMR, Gloria’s, and Hedgepig Ensemble Theater.

Right now, Withfriends is expanding operations to the north of the border (Toronto) and south. The team hopes to start working with independent spaces in Mexico and other Latin American countries with their vibrant culture and art.

“It’s really exciting coming from New York to see a city [Mexico City] that’s probably already seen the problems of gentrification in other cities in the US, and really energized around claiming their space and keeping a strong culture,” Hipley said.  

Cover photo courtesy of Oriana Leckert. All other photos courtesy of Fernando Yañez.

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