Going Strong: BAM opens its new venue

Going Strong: BAM opens its new venue
Photo by Trey Pentecost

It had a Strong start!

The Brooklyn Academy of Music unveiled its newest arts space with a gala party on earlier this month. The BAM Strong space, on Fulton Avenue in Fort Greene, includes the downtown arts organization’s first dedicated gallery for visual arts space, along with a rooftop sculpture garden, and a renovated entrance to the Harvey Theater. The design for the new space, which has been underway for about six years, had a lengthy set of goals, said the Academy’s president, at the Oct. 15 opening.

“We wanted to improve the experience of coming here, and we really, really, wanted an elevator,” said Katy Clark. “We wanted a grand staircase, we wanted a place for a party. We wanted to have a space that would marry the old and the new.”

The new space has accomplished all of those goals. An elevator — the building’s first — now travels between the ground floor lobby, the second floor lounge, and the third floor balcony.

A new staircase begins in the back, in space created by adding about 10 feet to the side of the 115-year-old brick building, and it climbs around a wide, empty space with a shining “vertical chandelier” that plunges from the roof to the second floor.

The previous stairwell, whose outline is still visible in parts of the lobby, required balcony visitors to exit the building and climb a grueling 69-step staircase to the third floor, said Jonathan Jones, who spearheaded the project. The new stairway is both easier to climb, and keeps the audience together as they enter the theater, he noted.

On the way up, ticket holders will pass a second floor Patron Lounge, for members of the Academy of Music which both overlooks the street and offers access to outdoor terrace, which, from the right angle, offers stunning views of Brooklyn’s Downtown.

The opening bell: The new Rudin Family Gallery will officially open on Nov. 6.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

On the ground floor, the new Rudin Family Gallery — constructed in space formerly occupied by an empty lot — connects the outer lobby with the building’s interior. On opening night, it held the two-piece art installation “When a Pot Finds Its Purpose,” which includes two large ceramic bells, and a series of moving items filled with blue liquid.

The opening of the space coincided with the launch of the 2019 Next Wave Festival, noted Clark, “because we never just do one thing at a time.”

Finishing the building in time for opening night required heroic effort, noted several speakers at the event.

“They got themselves up against an impossible deadline, and they pulled it through,” said Bill Campbell, vice chairman of the Board of Trustees.

But the space still has more details to before it is finished. The gallery seemed complete, but needed to close for some small tweaks before its official opening reception on Nov. 7, said Jones, and at the top of the stairwell, a planned mirror will make the glowing light fixture appear to extend into infinity. And on the rooftop terrace, a public sculpture, which will be visible from the street, should be installed next spring.

But the audience on the opening night had no complaints, as Clark welcomed them to the performance of “Swan Lake”

“We have made this space for you, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed designing and building it,” she said, to wild applause.

Moving on up: The new staircase, built around a vertical chandelier, mixes new materials with ancient brickwork.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

Reach arts editor Bill Roundy at broun[email protected]glocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507.