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Cultural District

Downtown Brooklyn is home to nearly 50 world-class arts and cultural organizations that play a central role in the community and economic development of the area. While the highly-acclaimed Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is one of the best-known cultural venues located in the area, scores of other organizations add to Downtown Brooklyn’s unique character and quality of life, including the Mark Morris Dance Group, the New York Transit Museum, MoCADA, and more.

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership keeps a master plan for the Cultural District, a vibrant, multicultural arts district in the neighborhood surrounding BAM. This effort involves the conversion of underutilized, city-owned properties into affordable performance and rehearsal space for a diverse array of non-profit visual, performing, and media arts groups. We also advocate for infrastructure improvements and strategic long-term planning, and raise the visibility of the area’s performance facilities and cultural institutions.

The first phase of the District's development involved the renovation of the 80 Arts - James E. Davis Arts Building, which was completed in Summer 2004, becoming the Cultural District’s first completed project. The 30,000-square-foot building is home to twelve diverse nonprofit arts groups benefiting from below-market rents and shared amenities.

In October 2008, the Irondale Ensemble Project, a theater company that creates and presents original work, opened the Irondale Center for Theater, Education, and Outreach at the former Sunday school space in the historic Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. Performing arts spaces, ISSUE Project Room at 22 Boerum Place, and BAM Fisher at 321 Ashland Place, followed in 2012.

And in October 2013, the Cultural District saw the opening of two new cultural venues: the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, a theater and rehearsal space which is the first permanent home of Theatre for a New Audience, and BRIC Arts | Media House, the improved homes for BRIC and UrbanGlass.

Developments in Progress

In December 2012, Mayor Bloomberg announced three major milestones to further strengthen the cultural community in Downtown Brooklyn. Progress continues apace on these three development projects:

  • BAM North Site 1: Located between Ashland Place, Fulton Street, and Rockwell Place, this site will be developed by Gotham Organization and DT Salazar in partnership with the City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The 515,000-square-foot mixed-use development will include 600 residential units, of which 50% will be affordable, 20,000-square-feet of cultural and related office space, and 20,000 square feet of retail space.
  • BAM North Site 2: Following an RFP that was issued earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg and HPD announced in October 2013 the selection of a team comprised of Jonathan Rose Companies, Dattner Architects, Bernheimer Architecture, SCAPE Landscape Architects and cultural partners Eyebeam Art + Technology Center and Science Gallery International to develop an affordable, mixed-use development which will create 42 units of affordable housing along with new ground-floor commercial space for a restaurant and 27,000-square-feet dedicated to a cultural space to be designed by Eyebeam and Science Gallery.

  • BAM South Site: In June 2013, the Two Trees Management project to develop the site between Flatbush Avenue, Lafayette Avenue, and Ashland Place was approved by the New York City Council. The 32-story mixed use cultural development will include 60 affordable housing units and 240 market rate units, over 15,000 square feet of retail, 50,000 square feet of cultural space, and a new public plaza. The cultural space, which is a critical component to this project, will be allocated to a BAM cinema, rehearsal space for 651 Arts, and a new library.

Below is a sampling of arts and cultural organizations in Downtown Brooklyn:

Since its founding in 1988, 651 ARTS has been committed to developing, producing, and presenting performing arts and cultural programming grounded in the African Diaspora, with a primary focus on contemporary performing arts. 651 ARTS serves the cultural life of New York City, with a particular focus on Brooklyn, one of America's most culturally diverse communities.

The Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./New York) is the service and advocacy organization for the nation’s largest, most artistically influential and culturally diverse theatre community: Off Broadway. Founded in 1972, A.R.T./New York serves nearly 400 not-for-profit theatres throughout New York City. Its South Oxford Space in the Cultural District houses twenty-one performing arts organizations.

Founded in 1987 by composers Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, Bang on a Can has grown from a one-day, twelve-hour music festival to a multi-faceted organization that includes a touring and recording ensemble (the Bang on a Can All-Stars); a commissioning program; a professional development/music institute for composers, conductors, and performers to record projects; and other programs that bring cutting-edge music to a wide audience.

Launched in 1981, BOMB Magazine is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation that publishes interviews and essays in which emerging and established artists can speak openly about their work. BOMB interviews are primary documents of American cultural history, with an archive of over 800 conversations between artists, writers, architects, directors, and musicians. The magazine aims to reveal, intimately and intellectually, the artist's creative process through in-depth conversation between peers.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) has grown into a thriving urban arts center that brings international performing arts and film to Brooklyn. BAM's current programming consists of the Next Wave Festival each fall; a spring season of international opera, theater, and dance; a comprehensive Education & Humanities program; and a variety of community programs.

Brooklyn Music School (BMS) provides on-site instruction in music and dance, public school outreach programs, and professional performances touching the lives of thousands annually by utilizing a distinguished faculty of 30 artist-educators. Students come to BMS from all walks of life and with diverse goals.

BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn presents contemporary art, performing arts, and community media programs that reflect Brooklyn's creativity and diversity. BRIC also provides resources to launch, nurture, and showcase artists and media makers. All of BRIC's offerings are free or low cost to advance access to and understanding of arts and media. Each year, upwards of one million people in Brooklyn and citywide are served through BRIC's programs.

Cool Culture is dedicated to facilitating low-income families’ access to and participation in the cultural life of New York City. The organization reaches over 32,000 families at 368 Head Start and city-funded day care centers and 101 Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs. Through partnerships with 71 of the City’s major museums, botanical gardens, and zoos, Cool Culture provides access, information, and support so that low-income parents and their children can take advantage of these remarkable educational resources.

Under the artistic leadership of Brooklyn native and choreographer Ronald K. Brown, Evidence, A Dance Company focuses on the seamless fusion of traditional African dance, modern, ballet, and hip-hop dance styles. Founded in 1985, the company’s mission is to promote understanding of the human experience in the African Diaspora and to provide sensory connections to history and tradition through music, movement, and spoken word.

Founded in 1976 by artist Martha Wilson, the mission of Franklin Furnace is to present, preserve, interpret, proselytize, and advocate on behalf of avant-garde art, especially forms that may be vulnerable due to institutional neglect, their ephemeral nature, or politically unpopular content. During its 20th anniversary season, Franklin Furnace reinvented itself as a “virtual institution,” not identified with its real estate but rather with its resources, made accessible by electronic and other means.

The Irondale Ensemble Project has a rich, 25-year history of producing and teaching experimental theater with a strong voice for social change. Located on the corner of Lafayette Avenue and South Oxford Street, the Irondale Center for Theater, Education and Outreach opened in October 2008 at its new home in the former Sunday school space in the historic Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. The 7,300-square-foot performance space features flexible seating for up to 160 people.

Mark Morris Dance Group offers classes for adults and children in its state-of-the-art dance facility. Primarily used for the company and school, the center’s five studios, including the largest unobstructed dance studio in the country, are available for rent to nonprofit dance companies at low, subsidized rates.

MoCADA/The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts is devoted to creating innovative exhibitions which serve as a medium to address, discuss, debate and resolve contemporary social, political, and economic issues that disproportionately affect the people of the African Diaspora.

New York Writers Coalition (NYWC) creates opportunities to be heard, through the art of writing, for formerly voiceless members of society. NYWC provides free, unique, and powerful creative writing workshops throughout New York City for people from groups that have been historically deprived of voice in our society, including at-risk youth, the homeless and formerly homeless, the formerly incarcerated, seniors, and others.

Scenarios USA  is a non-profit organization that uses writing and filmmaking to foster youth leadership, advocacy, and self-expression in under-served teens.  Scenarios USA asks young people to write about the issues that shape their lives for the annual “What’s the REAL DEAL?” writing contest, and the winning writers are partnered with some of Hollywood’s finest filmmakers to transform their stories into award-winning short films watched by over 15 million people a year.

StoryCorps  is a national project that instructs and inspires people to record each other’s stories in sound. Participants can interview their friends, loved ones, or anyone whose story they wish to hear and preserve. Anyone can make history in two StoryBooth locations in Manhattan, and in MobileBooths located around the country. Those who take part in the project receive a CD of the recording, which is also archived at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. Selected excerpts are played on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Urban Bush Women (UBW) is a performance ensemble dedicated to exploring the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change. UBW weaves contemporary dance, music, and text with the history, culture, and spiritual traditions of African Americans and the African Diaspora, exploring the transformation of struggle and suffering into the bittersweet joy of survival.

UrbanGlass is a not-for-profit international center that promotes the use and appreciation of glass as a creative medium and makes glass accessible to an increasingly diverse audience through its programs, educational initiatives, and publications.

WITNESS uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. They empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. Over the past decade, WITNESS has partnered with groups in more than 70 countries, bringing often unseen images and seldom heard voices to the attention of key decision makers, the media, and the general public.