Story at a glance

  • A new social club opened in Brooklyn, New York, and it is exclusive to people of color.
  • Called Ethel’s Club, this new artistic incubator aims to support nonwhite creatives through programs, salons and curations featuring artists of color. 
  • Ethel's Club will also provide a large mental and physical wellness component to its members.

New York has an elite new club, but it’s not at all what you think.

Meet Ethel’s Club, the trailblazing “social and wellness club” exclusively for people of color based in Williamsburg. Founded by techie-turned-entrepreneur Najla Austin, Ethel’s Club fills a void that has been empty for years: a safe and supportive space focused on the needs of people of color.

Named after her grandmother Ethel, Austin’s goal was to make Ethel’s Club “a home away from home for its members who may feel disoriented in a new city, or find themselves in predominantly white spaces as they progress in their careers,” as profiled in Vice. Despite having no experience founding a company, the market was already there. People were excited before she had investors or even a location, and the club now boasts a 4,300-person waiting list. 

Being based in a city as creative and diverse as New York, Ethel’s Club is slated to thrive as an incubator for creatives of color and help them connect with each other. Among its 150 members are artists, writers, authors, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, restaurateurs and more. A large part of the club will be featuring and curating new talent to enable networking and collaboration. Ethel’s Club Head of Brand Experience Vanessa Newman told the New York Times that Ethel’s Club wants to take some pressure off of nonwhite artists. 

Newman explains that she’d “ to be able to give them a chance to make things for people that look like them without the pressures [sic] of wondering, 'Will this sell? Will this perform? Will I have an all-white audience? Will this piss somebody off?' And just see what kind of work is produced when those social pressures are off." The projects and exhibits Ethel’s Club aims to program are within the art, film, music and literature industries. They hope to establish artist residencies in the future. All productions will be created by people of color. 

The first performance Ethel’s Club hosts will take place on Nov. 15. A comedy variety show, titled Play Cousins, will be hosted by stand-up comedians Sonia Denis and Rebecca O’Neal. It features Jaboukie Young-White as the headlining act with five additional performers. The show will be free for members and $20-$25 for nonmembers. It is described as a variety show centered on comedy acted out by “multidisciplinary performers of color.”

Having a venue for black creatives to use is a stark difference from the “makeshift” spaces that have been historically available to them. Even more daunting is creating one; Austin recalls her experiences with investors who offered “cheap basement rooms” as a space. 

Another unique component of Ethel’s Club is the mental and physical health support. Austin stated that “I don't think that people of color can get ahead without having those coping mechanisms and that mental health awareness,” and wants to remedy this by providing ample health workshops and on-site therapist support. Here, members will be able to safely discuss specific problems unique to people of color. 

Naturally, such a space has attracted high-profile attention, including writer Roxane Gay, who invested in Ethel’s Club financially. She sees Ethel’s Club as a “haven” and predicts expanding locations in all of America’s major cities. 

First and foremost, however, Ethel’s Club aspires to be the inclusive coworking space updated for the modern person of color. As Austin told PIX11 News, Ethel’s Club will give “a group of people who are often marginalized, and often not heard, a place to be heard.” 

Correction: An inaccurate line about an Ethel's Club art coordinator has been removed from this article. 

Published on Nov 15, 2019