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Builder’s bridge to the arts - Brooklyn Paper

Builder’s bridge to the arts

Zannah Mass is “cultural affairs director” for a real-estate titan.
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

The real-estate titan who created DUMBO now wants to make sure that the famously artsy neighborhood doesn’t lose the artsy types who made it famous.

Developer David Walentas has created a new position in his company — he now employs a “cultural affairs director,” a liaison to the arts community, to keep artists involved in the neighborhood’s development.

“There are so many artists here,” said Walentas’s son, Jed, “and we weren’t really dealing with them in an organized way.”

An unusual move for any developer, the hiring of a culture czar is designed to create a link with the artists, designers and performers who are rapidly being priced out of DUMBO, despite the fact that much of the neighborhood’s cachet comes from those same artists.

“My job is to foster cultural growth in the community,” said the first cultural affairs director, Zannah Mass. “I want to woo creative people to the neighborhood and support those that are already here.”

The Walentases are known for encouraging the neighborhood’s artists, designers and performers with gallery space and subsidized rent.

But now it’s not just the canvas-and-paint crowd that the Walentases want to support. Mass’s project will include culinary art at places like the Jacques Torres chocolate shop and Bubby’s restaurant, which is renowned for its pies; furniture makers; and graphic designers.

“There will be many new opportunities for artists to show their work, not just at the numerous galleries, but also in the buildings people are going to be living in,” she said.

Mass is already looking for a “cultural group” to sign a long-term lease for a ground floor community facility in the new Walentas building at 110 Livingston St. in nearby Downtown.

Though she’s only been on the job for about three weeks, Mass has been given free reign for now. She already plans to revamp the gallery walk on the first Thursday of every month. And she hopes to collaborate with the DUMBO Improvement District to improve the wasted public space of the Pearl Street Triangle — an area bounded by Front, Water and Pearl streets that now exists as a black hole of haphazard parking, uneven asphalt and partially covered-over cobblestones.

Mass, who once worked at the well-known DUMBO arts establishment, St. Ann’s Warehouse, is a familiar face in the neighborhood.

“Zannah is smart and knows the neighborhood and the community,” said St. Ann’s Artistic Director Susan Feldman, who recommended Mass for the job. “She’s the right person.”

Feldman also called the creation of the cultural czar position “a fantastic idea,” fitting neatly in with the policy of “enlightened development” that has characterized the Walentases’ long-term DUMBO plan.

“The Walentases have built this neighborhood,” Feldman said, “and they’ve always had a lasting commitment to the arts.”

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