There’s only one “cultural hip-storian” in all of Brooklyn, and if you find yourself at the right underground warehouse, rave, or music venue on a Friday night, chances are that you may run into her. In fact, Oriana Leckert has spent years in Brooklyn’s creative underbelly, seeking out the coolest DIY-spaces, passion projects, and eclectic venues that made this borough scrappy and edgy before it became (unironically) its own brand.
Leckert’s recently published book, Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture and Creativity, takes all of her first-hand knowledge and compresses it between two covers, bringing each space to life with interviews and beautiful, glossy photographs. “There’s a million wonderful spaces in Brooklyn,” Leckert says, “and it was very difficult for me to pick just fifty for my book.” Well, I ask, could she pick just ten for those of us who get overwhelmed by choices? Within a few days, Leckert comes up with her list.
“One of my favorite elements of the book is that each space represents a niche community,” explains Leckert. And, indeed, the book’s variety is astounding: aerial spaces, galleries, side shows, and legendary raves share pages with all sorts of communal living spaces, community gardens, and community kitchen shops. How could Leckert narrow it down to just ten?
“I was thinking about what would be broadly accessible and a good representation for Brooklyn today,” she says. “These are spaces that I think really need support because they are doing really wonderful things. They do very vigorous stuff, and all of their programming is really amazing. I want people to get out there and support them.” I know what I’ll be doing this summer, and the odds are, that I’ll run into Leckert.
Oriana Leckert’s 10 Brooklyn Spaces to Check Out Right Now:
UnionDocs: This nonprofit documentary film center, active for more than a decade, hosts a slew of classes and events, offers an annual residency program for documentary filmmakers from all over the world, and has spearheaded a multi-year, multimedia project, Living Los Sures, to preserve and showcase South Williamsburg’s long-standing Latino community. “We use documentary as a starting point to a broader conversation that can engage many different disciplines and areas of expertise,” says UnionDocs founder Christopher Allen, “and hopefully get people excited and aware about things happening in the world.”
322 Union Avenue, Williamsburg
Pioneer Works: This enormous, multidisciplinary nonprofit arts hub and learning center was started by Dustin Yellin in 2010, and now hosts classes of all stripes, from emerging technologies like microcontrollers to historical art methods like tintype photography. There’s a rotating exhibition gallery and lively events like the Second Sundays series, which has presented musical acts from Spiritualized to Omar Souleyman. “Demystifying processes is so enabling,” says David Sheinkopf, who is currently the Director of Education at Pioneer Works. “Our goal is to give artists greater access to new processes, a new vocabulary, and equipment and instruction that would otherwise only be available in private institutions.”
159 Pioneer Street, Red Hook
Jack: A Clinton Hill cultural hub presenting cutting-edge theater, dance, and music, their offerings are eclectic, spanning the spectrum from a series of lynching plays authored by African-Americans during the early 1900s to a performance by the experimental classical musicians, Ensemble Pamplemousse.
505 1/2 Waverly Avenue, Clinton Hill
Cacao Prieto: The founder of this chocolatier and distillery comes from a line of organic farmers in the Dominican Republic, and all the cacao in their products is sourced from the family farms. The space itself is gorgeous—you can tour it!—and their goodies are scrumptious.
218 Conover Street, Red Hook
Cloud City: This is the new-ish space from the terrific group of musicians and performers behind Dead Herring (RIP). It’s a more grownup project than the last, with an emphasis on innovative theater and alternative comedy, as opposed to raucous concerts, but everything that they present is fantastic, from audience-participation clown shows (starring folks like Butt Kapinski and the Red Bastard), to the annual Bad Film Festival, to a mesmerizingly nonsensical a Gertrude Stein play. As co-founder Jeff Seal explains, “Doing this is about presenting things we care about, not about making money. Because we sure as shit don’t make any money.”
85 North 1st Street, Williamsburg
FiveMyles: A nonprofit art gallery founded in 1999 to showcase primarily contemporary African artwork, as well as work by artists of African descent, FiveMyles also serves as a community hub for Crown Heights residents. During the summer, FiveMyles runs the Space Program, turning the gallery over—free of charge—to young and emerging artists and musicians for curation. “Everybody in the neighborhood knows, if you need something, come to FiveMyles,” says founder Hanne Tierney.
558 Saint Johns Place, Crown Heights
The Muse: One of the victims of the Vice takeover of a large warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront, this circus training and performance facility was forced out of their home last year. But, after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, they’ve opened a gorgeous new space in Bushwick that’s about five times as big. They’re revamping their roster of classes and have already put on several dynamite shows, including a Passover-themed variety show and their grand reopening aerial extravaganza. “Artists need time to bask in their process if they’re going to create truly profound work,” says founder Angela Buccini, “and my fear is that without spaces like the Muse, all our art will eventually have to be imported from other cities that are more supportive.”
350 Moffat Street, Bushwick
Waterfront Museum: The Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge Number 79 is the only surviving all-wooden Hudson River Railroad Barge from the Lighterage Age. It’s been turned into a maritime museum, floating classroom, and cultural programming venue. In the past twenty years, it has brought hundreds of thousands of people to the Red Hook waterfront for everything from circuses to lectures to weddings.
290 Conover Street, Red Hook
The Swamp: Punk venue The Swamp has been kicking since 2009—a pretty venerable run in DIY-years. It’s been emphatically underground for all that time, quietly putting on very loud and sweaty punk and hardcore shows, including the huge annual Latino Punk Fest. After all this time, The Swamp is going to be switching gears and shifting the space to a recording studio at the end of June. There’s a few more crazy shows left, so catch ’em while you still can! “Our thing is not money but community,” says founder Christian Erazo. “We try to make each show a really, really awesome event.”
258 Johnson Avenue, East Williamsburg
Open Source Gallery: This is a small nonprofit arts organization based in a renovated carriage house in South Slope that focuses on community events and programming, including a monthly storytelling series, a town hall-style lecture series, regular art salons and potlucks, and a lot of programming for kids, including annual make-your-own-soapbox workshops and derby.
306 17th Street, Park Slope