I had come to know John R.H. “ Jack” Blum through some of the work I had done at Milbank, Tweed and also through some of the involvements I had Lazard/Longstreet. Although time has absolutely dulled my recollection of how it came about – probably as we were working together in some of the deals with which I was peripherally involved. We must have hit it off well and found mutual respect.
Well, one day in 1967, Jack got in touch and told me that he, as the new President of The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (“BIAS”), (where his father had been a major player) had determined with the consent of the Board of Directors, that the Institute was going to create the position of Director to help coordinate the various components of the Institute; to work with their various separate boards; to help with funding; to be liaison with NY City and other governmental bodies; and to help create new programs to support the various divisions. Jack then asked me if I would like to take on this job. Talk about jumping off a cliff or taking a hidden path! Well, it was the right time for me (as I didn’t see anyone at Lazard that I wanted to be when I grew up) and it seemed like the right challenge and opportunity to spread my wings and fly off to that infinitude, embodying one of those jumps into the unknown that seem to be a theme of this lifetime for me.
A major memory I have of Jack Blum and his family is visiting his magnificent town house in Brooklyn Heights on the Promenade, overlooking downtown Manhattan and the NYC harbor. Those homes were going at that time for around $60,000. (Who had that sum that seemed beyond reach for most of us at that time?) They are now multi-million dollar properties. It is almost beyond my ken that when I started work at Milbank, my salary was $7,200 – that’s a year, not a month or a week. My rent for a two bedroom, basement (with garden) apartment on Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights was $175. Fast forward to today’s salaries and prices: starting salaries at these law firms in the $140-160,000 range; and apartment prices in the $1,500 plus range.
My position at BIAS was the first of what would be a number of positions that I ended up in throughout my career – positions that were new to the organization I joined – positions that did not exist before. Looking back, I can see that this type of challenge was very appealing to me and that seemed (and still do) to suit a creative bent that has underlay the path that called me ahead through this life. I can say that pretty much each and every “job” I was involved with since the job at BIAS has been plowing new ground. I remind the reader of the Castaneda story above and what tomorrow’s task was said to be [“So: tomorrow’s task is to plunge into the unknown by yourself. Sit there and turn off your internal dialogue. Go to the edge and jump into the abyss. You may gather the power needed to unfold the wings of your perception and fly to that infinitude.”]
I would like now to reflect back on my journey back to Brooklyn and what I found and what happened when I unfolded the wings of my perception flying into a world I would never have thought would be part of my life as a kid growing up on Ocean Avenue. Let’s take a look at this Institute and where it came from.
The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (“BIAS”) was a multidimensional cultural education institution located in the heart of Brooklyn, N.Y. near Prospect Park. It started as a library in 1823, but then grew to include museums, a botanical garden, and artistic education programs, most of which were added between the years 1890 and 1911. A performing arts component was added later.
Rendering of the original McKim, Mead & White design for the Brooklyn Museum, 1893
he original design of the new museum building, from 1893, by the architects McKim, Mead & White was meant to house myriad educational and research activities in addition to the growing collections. The ambitious building plan, had it been fully realized, would have produced the largest single museum structure in the world. Indeed, so broad was the institution’s overall mandate that the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum would remain divisions of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
In the face of financial restraints brought on by the Depression, the Institute began narrowing its focus, and the different branches became more and more independent. Some, such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, are now independently operated. The Brooklyn Museum is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. Its roots extend back to 1823 and the founding of the Brooklyn Apprentices’ Library to educate young tradesmen (Walt Whitman would later become one of its librarians). First established in Brooklyn Heights, the Library moved into rooms in the Brooklyn Lyceum building on Washington Street in 1841. Two years later, the Lyceum and the Library combined to form the Brooklyn Institute, offering important early exhibitions of painting and sculpture in addition to lectures on subjects as diverse as geology and abolitionism. The Institute announced plans to establish a permanent gallery of fine arts in 1846. Here are some salient points in the history of BIAS:. The Brooklyn Institute was reorganized into the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences by the New York State Legislature in 1890. The Act formally incorporating the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, L. 1890, c. 172, designated by name approximately fifty private individuals as the original trustees of the Institute, and authorized the Institute to adopt its own constitution, bylaws, and all appropriate rules and regulations for its self-governance. Subsequent laws added public officials as ex officio members of the Board of Trustees, including the Mayor, Comptroller, Park Commissioner and Borough President. The 1890 Act provided:
The purposes of said corporation shall be the establishment and maintenance of museums and libraries of art and science, the encouragement of the study of the arts and sciences and their application to the practical wants of man, and the advancement of knowledge in science and art, and in general to provide the means for popular instruction and enjoyment through its collections, libraries and lectures.
On December 23, 1893, as authorized by state law, the City of Brooklyn leased the land to the Institute for a term of one hundred years (the "Lease"), tracking the language of the 1889 Act as to the use of the property and the requirements for access by schools and the general public.
The Museum established, as a branch, the first children’s museum in the world in 1899. Throughout the first decades of this century, the Museum’s collections greatly expanded, with Departments of Fine Arts, Natural Sciences, and a newly-established Department of Ethnology. The Museum decided in the 1930's to focus on its collections of fine art and cultural history, and to abandon its mission as a science museum. The Museum’s natural history specimens were sent to other institutions. In 1934, the State legislature amended the description of the Institute’s purpose quoted above, by adding reference to establishment and maintenance of "botanical gardens" and the provision of popular instruction and enjoyment through "musical and other performances." L. 1934, c. 87. In the 1970's, various components of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences became independent institutions, including the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
The Museum today describes itself as having the second largest art collection in the United States, with approximately one and a half million objects.
The museum division of the Institute, which came to be popularly called the Brooklyn Museum, was conceived as the focal point of a planned cultural, recreational, and educational district for the burgeoning city of Brooklyn. Although the scope of that envisioned complex of parks, gardens, and buildings changed after the once-independent Brooklyn was absorbed into New York City in 1898, many features of the plan were eventually realized and are reflected in what can be seen today. In the area of land once designated as the Brooklyn Institute Triangle can be found not only the Brooklyn Museum but also such other institutions and facilities as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Prospect Park Zoo, Mount Prospect Park, and the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library system. Just beyond the western edge of the Institute Triangle complex stands the monumental entrance to Prospect Park, marked by the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch (1892) in the center of Grand Army Plaza. BIAS had a long and most interesting history. This history was summarized by U.S. District Court Judge Gershon in the lawsuit filed by NYC and Mayor Giuliani against the Brooklyn Museum in connection with an art exhibit there. For those who want to review the basis of the lawsuit and the decision relating thereto that upheld the Museum’s right to exhibit the art works under its First Amendment rights click here. ________________. Although there is a continuing debate about what constitutes “art” and what is the role of government (and the funds contributed by taxpayers) in this mix, this decision does constitute an important context for institutions that are ‘public’ and that receive public funds as a guideline for what it can exhibit as ‘art.’ ********************************* When I arrived at BIAS, my reception was a mixed one – there was a degree of skepticism on the part of each of the directors of the various components of the Institute. That was an attitude that could be expected with the creation of a new position for an umbrella organization that had no direct ownership of any collection, had no programming responsibility, or staffing outside of Tom Donnelly, the Administrative Vice President and his assistant who basically had fiscal responsibilities relating to the accounting for the umbrella organization and the reports that were due to New York City and other funding sources. There was, however, some openness to see what could be done to enhance the current operations of each of the component organizations. This was also reflected by some members of the BIAS Board and by members of the Boards of the various components. What I saw that could be initially explored was to identify needs and projects that would not interfere with the traditional role of each institution – ones that could bring some new excitement, new audiences, and attract both the continued (and hopefully increased) support of existing sources while opening up some new doors. There was, for me, also the challenge and excitement of entering into the interstices of the world of art and culture. I had seen some of this from the top down, like being in the center box at the Metropolitan Opera when I was at Milbank; or attending parties and receptions where there was talk of the attendees latest artsy involvements; or the wine tastings at the Plaza Hotel. And, I was still pretty much the ‘kid’ who looked in from the outside and who had this creative force bouncing around inside. Now I would get to play with the ‘toys’ and at least with some of the Big Boys (very few Big Girls then). I could also then get to work on that aspect of my persona and burgeoning beliefs regarding the hoi polloi – the power brokers who controlled this world - and how to open the doors and minds of “We the People,” who grew up as kids in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The context of what was going on in New York City at that time involved the struggle for improved race relations and for acknowledgment of the needs of the various communities – ethnic and just being outside of the canyons of Manhattan. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in the Spring of 1968. I remember walking through Bedford-Stuyvesant, the African-American section of Brooklyn the next day. I was helping to continue the work being done on MUSE, the storefront Children’s museum we were innovating to be a place for learning in this African-American enclave in Brooklyn. I recall being somewhat of a standout as the only white face around, and with the internal support I felt knowing the mission I was on (although not quite like the Blues Brother’s ‘mission from God’) I found no animosity and was able to express my sentiments about what was needed was to carry on Dr. King’s work. MUSE was developed with the help of the newly established young and upcoming architects at Hardy, Holzman & Pfeiffer. The existing Brooklyn Children’s Museum had been closed due to its poor conditions. To serve the youngsters in Brooklyn, at least temporarily, a neighborhood facility was envisioned. This was realized with MUSE, converted into a learning center/relevant museum from a former pool hall and auto showroom in the Black section of Brooklyn. The improvements were primarily paid by public funds from New York City. One of the first things that stands out in my memory was to get the youngsters who came to understand that beneath all the pavement covering the streets and sidewalks there was . . . dirt! I really enjoyed working with these guys at the Hardy, Holzman & Pfeiffer firm – they were fun, enthusiastic, and creative. As a result of their work on this innovative ‘temporary’ facility, they got the contract to design the new Brooklyn Children’s Museum. I still remember Hugh Hardy sharing that he and his wife Titsiana had acquired some property overlooking the water in Maine. The first thing they built was a porch so when they went to visit there, they could sit in a rocker and contemplate. Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates grew to become an internationally recognized American architecture firm with offices in New York and Los Angeles. They were noted for its innovative public buildings, and received over 100 national design awards, including the American Institute of Architects' Architecture Firm Award in 1981. After the firm disbanded in August 2004, each of the partners established a successor firm. At the top of the list of things that I primarily focused on was New York City’s support for the Institute and its components. For the year ended 1968 (my first year at BIAS) that amount was $1,676,933 which was 37% of the total budget of the five components of the total budget of all (The Brooklyn Museum, Children’s Museum, Academy of Music, Botanic Garden, and the general Institute itself) that totaled $4,559,670. I note that the total endowment of all the funds of the Institute at that time was only $19, 300,000 at market value, a significant part thereof consisting of restricted endowment. An Institute Development Council was an innovation we got started that upped contributions from $24,000 to $140,000 the first year. A ‘wish’ list was put together for projects to be funded. As can be seen, they were all related to the area community and youth. Just a reminder – the Brooklyn ‘community’ consisted of over two million residents! The funding wish list included: MUSE: the former auto showroom and pool hall; A Children’s Museumobile; workshops in art, music, science, photography, and poetry at MUSE; children’s workshops at Brooklyn Museum and Academy of Music; Community Gallery for community based art groups at BAM and in their communities; drama and dance performances in schools and communities. Totaling: $175,000. Among the people and outreach to the various populations and ‘communities’ in Brooklyn and the greater New York City area, I take responsibility for bringing into the Museum component of BIAS umbrella was the Community Gallery at the Brooklyn Museum (with Henri Ghent) and the help, encouragement, support and launching that was given to the Brooklyn Arts and Cultural Council - now the Brooklyn Arts Council . For the substantial current activities of this organization , see: http://www.loeildelaphotographie.com/2013/02/28/article/20447/brooklyn-arts-council-by-miss-rosen/ . The organization was founded, launched and made real by Charlene Victor, a powerhouse and not-to-be-denied woman who had a theater career and made her passion a reality. She was a ‘not-to-be-denied’ personality who would do whatever it took to move her dreams forward, with a bottom line of opening the doors of the powers-that-be (and were) to the rest of the creative Charlene was born in Chicago and moved to New York when she was 16 to pursue a careeer in the theater. Using the stage name Charlene Harris, she appeared in several Broadway shows, and performed on radio and television. She worked with Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater, and with Imogene Coca, Bob Fosse and Mel Brooks. She retired from the theater in the late 1940's and married Eugene Victor, a Brooklyn politician. She received awards for her work in the arts from several organizations, including the New York Board of Trade and the Arts and Business Council. In 1987, she was awarded the New York State Governor's Art Award. One of the accomplishments I am proud of at the Brooklyn Museum (besides bringing Nathan’s Famous in to operate the food and beverage component) was the creation of the Community Gallery. Charlene was a great help in getting involvement and support. To help run the Gallery and act as a bridge to the Black Community and Black artists, I hired Henri Ghent to be the director of the new Community Gallery that Tom Buechner had agreed to with the less than enthusiastic (but still with the agreement) of the Board of the Museum. See: https://books.google.com/books?id=HioEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA201&lpg=PA201&dq=Henri+Ghent+Brooklyn+Museum&source=bl&ots=9ugz5-d36l&sig=6cDv3stGoVJ3855qkhJkvH3yoa0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjB4sPFt-7JAhULpB4KHQXSA6sQ6AEILDAA#v=onepage&q=Henri%20Ghent%20Brooklyn%20Museum&f=false Basically, Henri was a black gay gentleman who had the ability to reach an important segment of the community while balancing knowledge of many of the great and upcoming black artists. During its years of operation, the Community Gallery’s mission was to show the works of diverse groups of local artists and to bring new community audiences into the Brooklyn Museum. In 1968, the Community Gallery of the Brooklyn Museum was formed in response to community requests to show the works of local artists. The Museum provided an exhibition space for community groups. To assure that adquate input would be received from the communities in determining the policies and direction of the Community Gallery, a twenty-two member Advisory Committee was formed. The Advisory Committee, representing the various communities in Brooklyn, served as a liaison between the communities and the Museum and determined the Gallery’s exhibition schedule based on proposals submitted by community groups. Once the proposals were selected, each community group juried its own show and the Museum provided all services for its realization. The Community Gallery provided services to community artists not only by providing a professional exhibition program within the Museum but also through the following related activities: Artists Registry, "notes" a newsletter for artists, an Artists in Residence Program, and neighborhood exhibitions. The Community gallery closed in the mid-1980s. As set forth in the Annual Report of BIAS for 1967-68, “At a time of unprecedented concern with the urban scene, the Brooklyn Institute finds itself fully engaged. We believe the arts can be used in a meaningful way in the attempt to solve the problems of the inner city and the disadvantaged. We also believe that this is a priority item. Our success depends on people, ideas and money. We are encouraged by the first signs and responses. Much remains to be done.” Another component of BIAS was the Brooklyn Academy of Music (“BAM”) that had basically laid dormant for many years after its stellar start. To resuscitate it, the BAM Board in 1967 appointed Harvey Lichtenstein as its executive director. Harvey not only took chances, but also and during the 32 years that Lichtenstein was BAM's leader, BAM experienced a renaissance. BAM is now recognized internationally as a progressive cultural center well known for The Next Wave Festival (started in 1983). Artists who have presented their works there include Philip Glass, Peter Brook, Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham, Laurie Anderson, Lee Breuer, ETHEL, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Steve Reich, Seal, Alice in Chains, Robert Wilson, BLACKstreet, Ingmar Bergman, The Whirling Dervishes and the Kirov Opera directed and conducted by Valery Gergiev among others. Lichtenstein gave a home to the Chelsea Theater Center, in residence from 1967–1977. The Director of the Brooklyn Museum while I was at BIAS was Tom Buechner. Tom was named as the museum's director in 1960, making him one of the youngest directors in the country. He oversaw a major transformation in the way the museum displayed art and brought some one thousand works that had been languishing in the museum's archives and put them on display. Buechner played a pivotal role in rescuing the Daniel Chester French sculptures from destruction due to an expansion project at the Manhattan Bridge in the 1960s. Born in New York City in 1926, Thomas S. Buechner attended Princeton University, The Art Student’s League in New York and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In Amsterdam he studied old master painting techniques with M.M. van Dantzig, a pupil of Max Doerner’s. Subsequently employed as a designer and graphic artist on the Governor’s staff in Puerto Rico, he specialized in exhibition design and was later appointed to the Display Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tom became the first director of The Corning Museum of Glass (1950-1960) and then was recruited to be the Director of the Brooklyn Museum (1960-1971). He was a bit out of his league when competing with the major institutions across the East River in Manhattan. Brooklyn Botanic Garden: The most separate ‘division’ of BIAS was the Botanic Garden. Not usually lumped with ‘arts and culture’ botanic gardens do occupy a special place of their own. Early plans for Prospect Park called for the park to straddle Flatbush Avenue. The City of Brooklyn purchased the land for this purpose in 1864. When Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux brought their final plans to the city for approval in the 1860s, they had eliminated the problematic division along Flatbush. The northeast portion went unused, serving as an ash dump. Legislation in 1897 as the city moved toward consolidation reserved 39 acres (16 ha) for a botanic garden, and the garden itself was founded in 1910. The garden was initially known as the Institute Park. It was run under the auspices of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, which included (until the 1970s) the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Children's Museum, and Brooklyn Academy of Music. It opened as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on May 13, 1911, with the Native Flora Garden being the first established section. Harold Caparn was appointed as the landscape architect in 1912. Caparn designed most of the rest of the grounds over the next three decades, including the Osborne Garden, Cranford Rose Garden, Magnolia Plaza, and Plant Collection. Construction of the Laboratory Building and Conservatory began in 1912, and the building was dedicated in 1917. The building—now simply the Administration Building—was designed in the Tuscan Revival style by William Kendall for McKim, Mead & White, the architectural firm that built the Brooklyn Museum, Manhattan Municipal Building, and many other prominent New York City buildings. It was designated a New York City Landmark in 2007. see http://www.bbg.org/about/history