The beginning of a new year is a natural time to take stock of the world we live in: what’s developed; what’s stalled; what’s been born; what’s died. This impulse to look at the immediate past and hope to catch a glimpse of what’s to come manifests itself in countless ways, but perhaps none were so prevalent this year than this stark assessment of the state of Brooklyn culture: It’s dead.
The abrupt closing in 2014 of many beloved, long-standing cultural institutions like the Galapagos Art Center and Death by Audio led many to lament Brooklyn’s ability to retain its current status as a cultural stronghold and declare its definitive demise. It seemed like the reality of rapidly rising rents, low vacancy, and rapacious consumerism had conspired to bring us to a tipping point, and that there would be no going back to the days when Brooklyn was a haven for cheap housing, creativity, and affordable studio and venue space.
And yet. It is perhaps obvious that we here at Brooklyn Magazine have a stake in reassuring people that Brooklyn culture is not dead, and that, you know, it’s better and healthier than it’s ever been (!!!), but our investment in Brooklyn culture extends beyond mere boosterism. While we can’t help but mourn the closings of many Brooklyn institutions, we also recognize that the very nature of culture is one of flux. Why should Brooklyn be any different?
But you don’t just have to take our word for it. We spoke with prominent people in Brooklyn’s cultural scene—some of them relatively new arrivals, others longtime local figures—to see what they thought about Brooklyn’s cultural past, present, and future. We also spoke with an urban historian to get a better sense of how Brooklyn’s past shaped its cultural present. And, just to put everything that’s happening now in even more perspective, we took a long look at Brooklyn’s cultural history, to get a better idea of what’s come before us. So, you know, maybe Brooklyn is dead. But also? Long live Brooklyn.