The All-Female Social Club Helping Creative Women Advance their Careers
Audrey Gelman thinks a lot about what make women tick. As the co-founder of the all-female co-working and social space, The Wing, fielding women’s concerns has become her job—and providing them with comfortable, inspiring spaces, her passion.
“Our members say that they’re more productive in an all-female space,” she mused, from The Wing’s third and newest venue in Dumbo, Brooklyn, which opened its doors this week. “That this is an affirming environment, where they feel empowered to take more professional and creative risks.”
When I spoke with Gelman, she was perched in front of a towering wall of color-coded books, written only by women. Behind her, I glimpsed Angie Thomas’s young adult novel The Hate U Give (2017), whose protagonist is a black teenage activist; Robin Morgan’s Sisterhood is Forever (2003), an anthology of feminist texts; and yes, Helen Fielding’s cult fiction guilty-pleasure, Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016), about multiple partners and motherhood.
Artworks by female artists also dotted the wall. Take Lana Barkin’s photograph of two women walking arm-in-arm, or Devra Freelander’s sculptural orb emblazoned with the confidence-boosting slogan “Bad Bitch.” What’s more, the silky, soothing voice of Mary J. Blige (recently, the first person to earn Oscar nominations for songwriting and acting in the same year) floated over the room.
In fact, a whirl around the sprawling space reveals that every piece of art, furniture, music—even every cup of coffee—was made or chosen by a woman. The drool-inducing spaces are the products of collaborations between architect Alda Ly and interior designer Chiara de Rege, and the art is orchestrated by The Wing’s own curator, Lolita Cros.
As Gelman notes, the physical spaces are designed not only to reflect the diverse expertise and talents of its members, but also to remind them that they should feel comfortable taking creative leaps.
The Wing was founded in 2016 by Gelman and her business partner, Lauren Kassan, as New York’s first co-working space exclusively for women, trans women, and those who live and present as women. It was inspired, as Gelman recalled, by 19th-century women’s clubs: safe environments where women gathered during the suffrage movement. “While our concerns are different now, we felt like there was still a place for those kinds of spaces,” she said. “And our vision became to resurrect them for modern women.”
For Gelman and Kassan, this meant building a sanctuary that not only offered community, but also workspace and networking opportunities away from the distracting dynamics that can exist in co-ed offices and social clubs.
Around the same time The Wing’s first location opened in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, a Quartz article by writer and comedian Jillian Richardson outed a slew of co-ed co-working spaces for their lack of formal anti-harassment policies and the HR infrastructure necessary to handle harassment complaints. Richardson herself was sexually harassed while working in one, and had no recourse other than to find a new office.
As the #metoo movement has spread, locating spaces free of harassment has felt even more urgent for many women. It’s in this environment that The Wing has become something of a refuge. “For whatever reason, we—women—constrict and shrink ourselves to accommodate male energy or male voices,” Gelman noted. “Here, you don’t have to do that.”
The Wing is by no means the only all-female co-working space that excludes men from its ranks; others, like Shecosystem and Hera Hub, have begun to pop up, too. It’s also not easy to become a member of The Wing—you must apply to be accepted, and those lucky enough make the cut pay monthly fees of either $215 or $250.
Even so, The Wing has continued to attract women in droves. Since 2016, the club has received over 13,000 applications and now counts thousands of members amongst its “coven,” as the company has referred to its community in its branding. To date, it’s opened three locations in New York to accommodate its growing ranks, with a D.C. outpost slated to open in April, and a Los Angeles location to follow later this year.
“Wing women,” as members have been affectionately dubbed, represent a vast array of ages, identities, and professions. While they’re certainly not all working in creative industries, an ample number are artists, designers, writers, musicians, art directors, filmmakers, and others. They join in search of creative inspiration, professional connections, and moral support.
Sugar Vendil, a musician and composer, was initially attracted to The Wing’s big, beautiful space. It offered a welcome alternative to her small apartment, where she usually worked, and a break from everyday distractions.
But the sense of comfort and community has had the most influence on her practice. “When I’m there, I feel a sense of optimism, confidence, and fearlessness,” Vendil explained. “It’s affected my creative process in the sense of being more daring creatively, and being more outspoken through my art.”
“Often as women, across industries, we feel like the outsiders…and to have something that’s just ours, where men aren’t allowed, is even physically relaxing,” she continued.
This environment also drew jazz recording artist Candice Hoyes to The Wing. “I was launching some deeply personal music projects, and I needed a place to feel inspired and vulnerable,” she said. “As a musician, feeling free and collaborative is what makes me tick, and that is the nature of the place.” She’s also found opportunities to share her work through an invitation to perform in the space.
Opportunities for members to connect with each other and share work and ideas is a priority for The Wing’s staff (made up of 60 women and counting). Meetups between members are arranged regularly. Sometimes, Wing women are paired through their star signs or the neighborhoods in which they live. Or, they might be brought together through common professions, sparked by events like “Wake Up: Breakfast for Creatives,” which is billed with the tagline, “We foresee collaborations brewing!”
For her part, embroiderer and handbag designer Janis Munz has gleaned inspiration from more seasoned creatives who pass through The Wing to give lectures. A talk between fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships at Instagram, was particularly fruitful. Afterwords, Munz chatted with von Furstenberg, a conversation which “changed [her] entire vision,” she said. She’s since found a mentor in Chen, too.
Screen-printing, drawing, and embroidery classes also offer opportunities for members to showcase their expertise, and for others to learn from their skills. So do gallery and museum tours, given by members like Rebecca Ann Siegel, founder of the art and culture magazine Even, and art talks that involve creatives and art world leaders, like Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Kimberly Drew, an activist and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s social media manager.
The aspect of The Wing that seems to spark the most enthusiasm in creatives, however, is the opportunity to meet and interact with women outside of their fields. “What we love about The Wing is that you can have someone who’s a painter or a neon artist sitting across from someone who’s a teacher or a physician or a lawyer,” said Gelman. “That’s the cross-pollination we get most excited about here.”
Illustrator Adriana Picker, who moved to New York from Sydney last year, initially joined The Wing “as an alternative to working alone from my apartment everyday,” she said. “As a freelancer new to the city that can be very isolating.”
As she hoped, the space provided a “pressure-free environment in which to network and meet new friends.” But its most inspiring quality was the chance to work alongside and befriend a trial lawyer, a sex columnist, and a woman working in education policy reform.
This diversity has inspired the art Cros selects to hang on The Wing’s walls. Artworks represent women at all stages in their lives, or allude, more abstractly, to their desires, struggles, and ambitions. In one photograph by Kristina Loggia, a group of women in cowboy hats gather at a rodeo. A series of Nydia Blas’s collages explores racial inequality by pairing found images of African-American women with Pantone color scales. And in an image by photographer
Of course, The Wing is by no means the only space where female creatives can find a diverse, supportive community of women. It is, however, a reminder that women are seeking spaces of their own—ones in which they, and their creativity, can thrive.
Alexxa Gotthardt is a contributing writer for Artsy.
Portrait of Audrey Gelman in her office in Soho, New York, by Meron Menghistab for Artsy.