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Brooklyn Arts Council Celebrates Over 50 Years of Helping Artists

For over half a century, Brooklyn Arts Council continues to foster the borough’s vibrant art community.

BAC Founder Charlene Victor makes a point during a BACA planning session, 1965. Victor founded BACA (as BAC was then known) with a vision to nurture and promote the arts in Brooklyn neighborhoods. She recognized the need for an organization that valued creativity and cultural work that tapped into the local and ethnic roots of the borough artists and community arts partners. Victor formed BACA so that Brooklyn-based artists could obtain the financial and social support they needed to bring their work to the public in a variety of ways, from staging concerts, dance, and theater performances in Prospect Park to bringing visual art exhibitions to the Brooklyn Heights promenade. (all images courtesy BAC)

Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) has been making a difference in the borough’s cultural community for over 50 years. According to Executive Director Charlotte A. Cohen, “Brooklyn Arts Council is deeply invested in what art makes possible in our borough. For over 50 years, BAC has invested in the artists and innovators who call Brooklyn home.”

The organization, which offers grants, presents free and affordable events, trains artists and arts professionals, teaches students, incubates new projects, and promotes artists and cultural groups, continues to respond to the rising energy in the borough. “Like Brooklyn itself, BAC has undergone many changes over its 50-year lifespan,” Cohen says. “We staged music and theater performances in Prospect Park and in city streets across the borough, starting in the 1960s. We curated exhibitions on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at a time when city support for art in public space was rare and new. Thirty-seven years ago, we gained the ‘arts council’ designation when New York City and New York State granted us the honor of administering grants in Brooklyn, demonstrating their faith in our expertise, acuity of vision, and leadership.”

BAC leadership has helped — and continues to help — make the borough’s art community stronger. In March, BAC awarded $420,000 to Brooklyn artists, while annually it also employs artists in its Arts in Education program, helps heritage artists reach a wider public as part of its Folk Arts initiative, and invests in underserved communities as part of its Creative Coalitions program. This spring, BAC is also running workshops in grant writing, budgeting, and marketing for artists.

This Thursday, May 18, BAC is hosting its spring benefit, titled “Alive with Art 2017,” and Hyperallergic is proud to be the media sponsor. The event will take place at the William Vale hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The following are a dozen archival and recent photographs that help illustrate some of the impact the Brooklyn Arts Council has had on its home.

In the 1980s, avant-garde artists, under the direction of Greta Gunderson, performed at BACA Downtown, BAC’s brick-and-mortar theater space. It was at BACA Downtown that Suzan-Lori Parks, a budding playwright, staged her first play, Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom. In 1990, the NEA awarded BACA Downtown (as BAC was then called) a $10,000 grant to support the creation and performance of The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, launching the career of the soon to be Pulitzer Prize–winning and MacArthur Foundation grantee. Parks has spoken of “finding her artistic home” with BAC and how BAC and the NEA’s early support bolstered her artistic self-confidence, provided her with encouragement and official recognition, and gave her the inspiration and optimism she needed to keep going, push harder, and grow. BACA at Canarsie Pier Gateway National Park during a performance of A Baker’s Half Dozen, July 8, 1979
A happy participant during the “Salute to Brooklyn’s Creative Youth,” June 1983
A view of the “You Gotta Have Park” event at the Prospect Park bandshell, May 1989
A BAC-sponsored public music performance on Fulton Avenue in Brooklyn, August 1991
BAC’s Creative Coalitions program partners with artists and organizations to bring arts experiences to neighborhoods in East Brooklyn. In 2016, BAC partnered with ARTs East New York to present ReNew Lots, a market and artist incubator in East New York. Two vacant lots were transformed into a pop-up marketplace for community artists and food vendors to sell their goods, while neighborhood artists presented visual art and music performances and conducted free arts workshops for children. This photo of the children’s art workshop appears courtesy of BAC Creative Coalitions and ARTs East New York ReNew Lots.
A view of BAC’s “Arts in Education Program — 208K Digital Media Workshop,” 2016 (photo by Karina Krainchich)
In 2015, BAC’s Folk Arts program celebrated the 10th anniversary of folk feet, a series of public programs celebrating a wide range of traditional dance forms. The dance performances were free to the public. “South Asian Wedding Celebrations at Bandhan: Festival of Cultures” featured the National Women’s Dance Troupe of Sri Lanka demonstrating Kandyan wedding dance.
In 2015, BAC’s Folk Arts program celebrated the 10th anniversary of folk feet. At “Lock, Brukup, Flex and Jump,” performed by the Dream Ring at the Umoja Events Juneteenth Festival, Brooklyn-based Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray of the Dream Ring presented flex, a street dance that features snapping, pausing, gliding, “bone breaking,” hat tricks, and contortion, influenced by dancehall and brukup style.
BAC’s Folk Arts program partnered with BRIC Arts Media to present “Dancing Crane Georgian Dance” during BAC’s 2015 Folk Arts programming. (photo by Christopher Mule)
In the summer of 2016, BAC’s Folk Arts program offered free traditional arts performances in tents at community festivals across the borough. “Festivals Traditional Style” — a series of free, family-friendly events in tents — created space for traditional performers to present their expressions and art forms to a wider audience. At the Pakistan Independence Day Mela, Aziz Peerzada and his 10-year-old son, Saboor Aziz, a tabla prodigy, performed traditionally and classically inspired music of Azra Riaz and Salamat Ali. (photos by Christopher Mule)
In the summer of 2016, BAC’s Folk Arts program offered free traditional arts performances in tents at community festivals across the borough. “Festivals Traditional Style” — a series of free, family-friendly events in tents — created space for traditional performers to present their expressions and art forms to a wider audience. At the IAAF (International African Arts Festival), BAC Folk Arts presented traditional African drumming performances and textile weaving demonstrations at Commodore Barry Park in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The photo pictured here is of Gambian musician Salieu Suso sharing a collection of traditional songs played on the 21-stringed Kora (West African harp).

Tickets for the Brooklyn Arts Council’s “Alive with Art 2017” benefit, happening on May 18 at the William Vale (111 N 12th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn), are available online

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