Mar 10, 2015
Talking With Samantha Katz, Co-Lead Organizer of Arts in Bushwick
“These are profoundly complex questions retrofitted into very simple ones,” says Katz. “’Brooklyn culture’ is continuously evolving—it won’t hit a peak and it doesn’t have an expiration date. Yes, Brooklyn is unbearably topical right now. Practically a worldwide brand, it has inspired hip venues, trendy clothing companies, No.1 singles, and baby names around the globe. But I can’t shake the idea that the same people who celebrate Brooklyn’s inflated ‘coolness’ often reduce it to sweeping stereotypes, regarding it as an amalgamation of broke millennials, imaginatively coiffed facial hair, and all vegan everything.
“Though these characterizations often overshadow some of the borough’s more virtuous offerings, they are representative of the nascent North Brooklyn scene of the Aughts—a particularly special time to live here, and the same sliver in history that caused the borough to build its current cultural reputation. This was, of course, when you could spend your night jumping between shows at Glasslands, 285 Kent, and Death by Audio; when you could actually get a seat on the L train during the morning commute, and when the only celebrity you’d see at the Gutter at 2am on a Wednesday would be Adrian Grenier—now Bjork is hanging out in Bushwick for god’s sake.
“Gentrification, that pesky word, is partially behind the shift in Brooklyn’s cultural landscape. And though not entirely to blame, artists are often considered fuel for rapid urban development, causing once low-cost neighborhoods with affordable living and working spaces to be replaced by large corporations and gaudy apartment complexes. But young people have been creating here for literal centuries—Pratt Institute, the impetus for my move to Brooklyn in 2004, has been active since 1887—yet the media only seemed to take a passionate interest in these ongoings over the past decade. The New York Times began to highlight the budding Brooklyn scene; so did Vogue, MTV, Vice, etc., and eventually the same major media outlets that helped local institutions build their influence were ultimately at the root of their demise. Once the hype spikes and the rents rise, the doors close and it’s time to move on.
While it is true that neighborhoods like Williamsburg have been completely transformed, there are efforts being made to sustain cultural bounty in other areas. The borough has maintained a lot of its virtues; staple gems, both old and new, continue to thrive! Just check out the spring programming at BAM, Target First Saturday’s at Brooklyn Museum, The Living Room Comedy Show at Postmark Cafe, the residencies at Pioneer Works, or the abundance of art being made at Gowanus Art Space. And Bushwick Open Studios for instance, the annual festival hosted by Arts in Bushwick, aims to foster relationships between artists and local residence, with the goal of creating a sustainable community in this Brooklyn neighborhood.
“So even though the popular picture of Brooklyn culture is disappearing, there are forces keeping positive change in motion. And, albeit impossible to predict its precise future, I think the silver lining is that by the time Brooklyn is no longer ‘cool,’ most of us will be too old to care about that sort of thing anyway.”
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