Anyone looking for an avatar of everything that’s gone on in Brooklyn over the past two decades—the wild influx of artists and money, the transformation of long-dilapidated buildings into re-purposed hubs of commerce—would be hard pressed to find one more fitting than the BRIC House and UrbanGlass center, newly opened to the public this morning after a two year renovation and a 20 year fight to bring the historic Fort Greene structure back to life.
Or, as BRIC president Leslie Schultz put it more bluntly at this morning’s “ribbon cutting” (the ribbon in question was made of glass and gently smashed apart by a hammer-wielding, goggle-wearing Mayor Bloomberg), “Two years ago, the building behind you was a hulking reminder of urban blight.”
Which is something $41 million in city funding can go a long way towards fixing. The former Strand Theater, just around the corner from BAM on Fulton St., has housed BRIC’s operations since 1993, but is now shared with UrbanGlass and utilizes double the square footage to include a cavernous gallery (free and open to the public), an in-house television studio, a theater and “flexible performance space,” a multi-purpose artist’s studio, and an in-house cafe from Flatbush Ave.’s Hungry Ghost.
With massive windows looking in, hard-to-miss new neon signage, an open design courtesy of Thomas Leeser (who also spearheaded the much-loved recent addition to the Museum of the Moving Image), and a series of in-house production courses that start from as little as $10, the space is intended to be as accessible as it is ambitious. Which, of course, is still good for the neighborhood bottom line.
Gleefully dubbing Brooklyn “the artistic epicenter of New York City and America” at this morning’s ceremonies, Marty Markowitz also noted, “Wherever artists go, success follows. You show me a neighborhood where artists live, I’ll show you a neighborhood that’s vibrant, thriving, buzzing with life, and increasingly unaffordable.” While Mayor Bloomberg grimaced faintly, he added, “I’m kidding about that last part.”
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.