The Brecht Forum, a 39-year-old space for Marxist educational programming and related cultural initiatives in New York, is closing, according to an announcement posted on the organization’s website and confirmed to Hyperallergic. A public conversation is planned for April 16, where the institution will “reflect on the past … what we did, what we could have done differently, and what we ought to be doing in the future.” Reached by telephone earlier this afternoon, Matt Birkhold, executive director of the Forum since October, said that a lawsuit over back rent from a former landlord made it impossible for the organization to cover operating expenses.
The Forum, which has in recent years hosted Cornel West, Michael Moore, and Robin D. G. Kelley, among many others, moved to its current Brooklyn location at 388 Atlantic Avenue in October — at the same time that Birkhold assumed leadership from the retiring Liz Mestres. Prior to that the organization was housed on the west side of Manhattan, where it had fallen behind on rent. This duress was exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy, which Birkhold says damaged the offices and made it difficult to host events in the space.
“We went without heat for four months, so we couldn’t do anything for four months, lost a great source of income, and got further behind on rent,” Birkhold said.
Birkhold added that although the organization has 179 donating subscribers and sees more that 15,000 people come through its doors annually, the debt it faces — in the mid-six-figures — is insurmountable. Unless a last-minute donor intervenes, the discussions set to take place Wednesday and beyond will “without doubt” seek to continue the Brecht Forum’s mission “under the aegis of a new organization.”
Birkhold is the Forum’s sole employee, though the staff downsized from three when he took over in October. He expected the lead the Marxist group as it eked out a precarious existence in Brooklyn, but the unexpected landlord lawsuit put an end to these plans.
The organization was originally founded in 1975 as The New York Marxist School, and in 1984 was renamed The Brecht Forum, after the radical German playwright Bertolt Brecht, an advocate for culture as a mobilizing terrain for radical politics. Over the course of its history, the Brecht Forum has hosted such projects as The Institute for Popular Education, an experimental jazz series called the Neues Kabarett, and the Strike Anywhere Theater Ensemble.