I’m going to preface this post by saying that I am by no means a museum nerd. In fact, other than the Brooklyn Museum the only museum that I’ve been to in New York City was the MOMA many years ago when I was in college.
I did however have the privilege to live directly across the street from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum for almost three years, both of which provided me and my family with countless hours and days of entertainment. No matter how many times I walked by the museum I was always eager to take in the beautiful old majestic building. The size and grandeur of the building itself are just amazing.
That being said, I do have the ability to go online and see what other museums have to offer and, for my money, the Brooklyn Museum has incredibly interesting and important collections and some outstanding cutting edge exhibits as well.
Add into the mix their awesome First Saturday events and your have what would seem like a winning recipe for a museum in New York City, albeit in Brooklyn.
Therein lies the rub. It’s not just the fact that the museum is in Brooklyn, it’s where in Brooklyn it’s located. It’s basically situated on the corner of three different neighborhoods with Park Slope just a stones throw away, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Garden.
Having lived in that area for a few years and Park Slope for three more years I can tell you that three out of four of those neighborhoods don’t seem like the “museum type”. It’s not to say that no one in any of those neighborhoods ever has any interest or desire whatsoever to go to a museum but they don’t seem like neighborhoods that consist of large group of people with a socio-economic background that you would generally associate with having the kind of disposable income available to spend on museum memberships and donations. As much as I enjoyed the museum and the fantastic shooting fountains and free WIFI on the plaza I am including myself in that last group.
When it opened a new glass entrance in 2004 meant to beckon the masses, the Brooklyn Museum said it hoped to triple attendance in 10 years by concentrating on a local audience. It had stopped worrying about competing with Manhattan museums or about its image — despite its world-class collections — as a poor man’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But six years in, the effort to build an audience is not working. Attendance in 2009 dropped 23 percent from the year before, to about 340,000, though other New York cultural institutions remained stable.
Almost a quarter of the attendees were people who came for First Saturdays, free nights at the museum that include music, dancing, food, cash bar, gallery talks and films.*
Some people may look at these numbers and be discouraged. Quite the opposite, these numbers give the museum an amazing amount of freedom to embrace change. Now is the time for the Brooklyn Museum to shed its cloak of ambiguity and redefine itself, to create a new persona if you will. The Brooklyn Museum is located right in between The Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park. The BBG is by far the best of all of the botanic garden’s in NYC, in fact it’s one of the top botanic garden’s in the entire country. Prospect Park is like the Central Park of Brooklyn and is far and away the second best park in all of NYC behind Central Park. All three of these entrances are within a few hundred yards of each other. There is absolutely no other museum in all of New York City, perhaps in all the country, that can offer those sorts of amazing landmark destinations so close to each other.
Brooklyn is, has and probably always will be the land of idealists. The true melting pot of NYC. Let’s reinvent the Brooklyn Museum as the epicenter of the People’s Republic of Brooklyn. Great art, great theatre, great music all have one thing in common. Conflict. Turn the Brooklyn Museum into Brooklyn’s cathedral of conflict. Become the people’s museum. This doesn’t mean you need to “dumb down” the exhibits. Quite the opposite. Stretch the boundaries. Place your finger on the pulse of your neighbors and feel the angst, the desperation, the passion and the intense, unquenchable desire to grow in order to continue to walk, march and fight in this silent revolution we’re living.
* New York Times – Brooklyn Museum’s Populism Hasn’t Lured Crowds