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The future of the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District

Brooklyn’s Great White Way

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All the borough’s a stage and Fulton Street cuts right down the center.

The area around Fulton and Flatbush and Lafayette avenues is Brooklyn’s Great White Way, or, officially, the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District. The city-designated arts precinct is already home to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Mark Morris Dance Group, and it is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. Two new additions are settling in after joining the neighborhood in late 2013 — the Theatre for a New Audience and Bric. We talked with the district’s newest residents to see what’s in store for 2014 and beyond.

A new theater for a Brooklyn audience

After decades staging plays around the city, the Theater for a New Audience opened its own little playhouse in Brooklyn — the magnificently appointed, state-of-the-art Polonsky Shakespeare Center on Ashland Place in the heart of the Cultural District. But rather than sit back and take a breath, the Theatre aims to expand further, and its founder couldn’t be more excited.

“It’s exhilarati­ng,” said Jeffrey Horowitz, who created the venue in 1979.

The theater is raising money for rehearsal space, and is working to create a residency program where artists with an idea can nurture that seed with support and resources from the Theater for a New Audience, Horowitz said.

“We want to be a place that not only produces finished work but is also creating or feeding work,” he said. “The artist can define a project they want to work on — the residency is infinite in its possibilit­ies.”

Horowitz said the organization is engaging with the broader community, as well.

The theatre partners with local schools to build students’ interest in classical theater, and the project culminates in a performance by students. Horowitz hopes some of those performances can take place in the Polonsky Theater.

He said the thespian center also plans to open itself up for community events like Parent-Teacher Association meetings, and will rent space for other events.

Then there’s the Brooklyn Pass, which will offer inexpensive tickets to residents with kids in local public schools.

“We’re really integrating ourselves into the community,” he said.

Bric by Bric

With its new digs on Fulton Street, Bric is settling in to its Bric House — once the historic Strand Theater — and the masterminds behind the Celebrate Brooklyn festival are bringing more free arts events to the masses from their base.

More than 50,000 people have passed through Bric House’s doors since it opened in October — double what the organization expected, said president Leslie Schultz.

The building’s indoor stoop, which hosts free talks and musical performances most Tuesday nights, has been a big hit with Brooklynites, according to Schultz.

“The stoop is a monumental public Brooklyn space,” she said.

Bric also introduced Brooklyn Independent Media — a 24-7 television channel that is all about the County of Kings, she said.

Now Bric is finding innovative ways to cut its carbon footprint. The building is already Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified — a designation that awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council for energy-efficient design, construction, and operation.

Now the arts Mecca is working with Con Edison and alternative energy providers to bring down energy consumption even further, Schultz said.

More acts to come

Bric House and the Theatre for a New Audience are the latest in a steady flow of new neighbors coming to the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District.

Eyebeam Art and Technology Center is picking up its Manhattan roots and staking a claim in Brooklyn, too, and the organization’s leaders say the move will be more like a homecoming.

“All of our staff and much of our audience comes from Brooklyn,” said executive director Patricia Jones.

She said the cultural district is right up Eyebeam’s alley, too. The incubator of creativity will bring more exhibitions, performances and public events, as well as artist residency opportunities, to the neighborhood and the borough as a whole, she said.

Planned for the first three floors of BAM North Site 1, Eyebeam’s new home will feature flexible exhibition spaces, large education labs, and small black-box performance space, Jones said.

The new site will give the media arts group more flexibility for programming and education.

The BAM North site will not be done for two or three years, but Eyebeam is crossing the East River early to set up a temporary shop in Sunset Park’s Industry City by July. Jones said it is a way for the group to get a head start on its move into Brooklyn.

“As soon as we’re over there and we can breathe again, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking to local schools and organizati­ons,” she said.

After a layover in Industry City, Eyebeam will make the big move to the Downtown Brooklyn and start firing on all cylinders, she said.

Despite all the recent developments — and the ones to come — the District hasn’t hit its capacity for arts and entertainment, said Bric’s Schultz.

“If you build it they will come — and more arts in Downtown Brooklyn is something we should all be encouraging,” she said.

This article is part of a series about how development is shaping the borough’s future, written for the Community Newspaper Group’s free magazine Brooklyn Tomorrow, which is on newsstands now.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
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