Talking With Deborah Schwartz, President of the Brooklyn Historical Society

How have you seen Brooklyn change since you’ve held your position?
Brooklyn has been in a state of perpetual change, since the Dutch created the original five towns in the mid-17th century. Since becoming the head of Brooklyn Historical Society in 2006, I have seen a great deal of change but it all feels very much part of a continuum that can be traced back for centuries!—real estate development, the explosion of the food industry, new technologies, magnificent new parkland, the reclaiming of the waterfront,—all contributing to the sense of dynamism, creativity and community. Even the financial downturn of 2008 made room for fierce and scrappy solutions to shrinking resources. And of course, Super Storm Sandy created dramatic changes that we didn’t see coming, that changed entire communities, and that demanded the attention from all of us. Change is fundamental to Brooklyn’s history and culture. This is, thank goodness, anything but a static place.

What makes Brooklyn a unique cultural incubator?
Brooklyn is this marvelous mix of edginess, vitality, great food, gorgeous architecture, parkland, ever shifting immigrant communities and clashing cultures. This astonishing mix means that people find each other because of their shared passions and interests and come together to create, to take risks, and to reinvent themselves and the world around them. With encouragement from extraordinary cultural institutions and forward thinking businesses, Brooklyn artists and inventors get to take risks, fail, reinvent themselves, and then pick themselves up to try out the next outlandish thing. Every once in a while an experiment blows up, but mostly we are all the beneficiaries of the wild and the wacky experiments.

Do you worry about Brooklyn losing its cultural cache as it becomes more expensive here?
I don’t think it will lose its cache, but it may lose some of its edge. If we can’t protect the ability of artists to live here, and immigrants to settle here, then we won’t have the opportunities for the marvelous, unexpected, and inventive mash ups that make Brooklyn so fabulous.


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