The Brooklyn Academy of Music, more commonly referred to as BAM, is a global destination for the some of the best film, theater, dance, music, opera, comedy, live talks, performances, and visual arts in New York City. On any given night, the streets outside of BAM are choked with artsy patrons of the Academy’s events—but it wasn’t always that way.
In November 1969, The New York Times published the story “Will Brooklyn Ever Be ‘In’?” about BAM’s struggles to attract the city’s culture vultures. Making Brooklyn “fashionable” is cited among the several problems facing then-director Harvey Lichtenstein. (He is credited with leading BAM through the renaissance that transformed it into the prominent cultural institution it is today.)
Theater critic Clive Barnes writes in the piece: “The Brooklyn Academy of Music is about a 20-minute subway ride from Times Square, but to many Manhattan residents, it is like the other side of the world in New Jersey.”
It wasn’t simply a matter of distance. “Most patrons of the performing arts in this town either live in Manhattan or the suburbs, and those who live in Brooklyn will frequently prefer to come to Manhattan, with its better facilities and restaurants, than stay in their home borough.”
Barnes seems somewhat hopeless in his analysis of BAM’s future: “Short of sending out press-gangs into Manhattan to shanghai unsuspecting citizens to Brooklyn, it is difficult to see what more can be done.”
It took a while, but Brooklyn has fared pretty well since then. While it’s no secret that the five boroughs have undergone a serious transformation in the last few decades, it’s pretty fascinating to be reminded that a place now hip to the point of parody was once regarded as a cultural death sentence. Oh, how far we’ve come.