Before construction began two years ago, the Brooklyn Information and Culture’s (BRIC) downtown building was dark and uninviting.
Though the non-profit arts organization’s facilities at the old Strand Theater on Fulton Street in Fort Greene have been open to the public since BRIC moved to that building in 1993, the building’s exterior has not always been pleasing to the eye.
“There was one entrance to the building. It was essentially a fire exit with two dark doors with no signage on them. It was a very mysterious and very foreboding building,” said BRIC president Leslie Schultz.
Today BRIC opened its newly-renovated BRIC House, a 40,000 square foot arts complex to the public. BRIC House, which is free for the public to explore, includes gallery spaces, a ballroom for performances, a television studio, a rehearsal space, a cafe, classrooms and video editing suites. BRIC House also provides space for UrbanGlass, a gallery and education center that focuses on glassworks.
BRIC, which was founded as the Fund for the Borough of Brooklyn in 1979, completed plans for BRIC House in 1996, and the city began to fund the project in 1999. Construction was delayed, and after Sept. 11, 2001, the project lost funding.
“When the city was in such a shaky economic situation the capital funding was entirely removed from the project,” Schultz said. “Come 2002, we needed to start over again.”
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz began funding the project in the early 2000s, and in 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council matched Markowitz’s contributions. Between then and this past June, BRIC raised a total of $41 million in funding from the city and private investors.
Schultz said BRIC House targets several groups of visitors: local artists who use the gallery and rehearsal spaces; city residents and tourists; and those who may be unfamiliar with the arts.
“We consider part of our core mission building demand for the arts and bringing new audiences into the place,” Schultz said. “One of the reasons it’s an un-ticketed venue is so that our neighbors don’t feel any barrier to entry. If people can see in, they will get the sense that they’re welcome to come in.”
The inaugural exhibition in the art gallery, which stands just below street level near the entrance to BRIC House, is called “Housewarming: Notions of home from the center of the universe.” The collection features multimedia work by 11 artists, and includes a miniature replica of a Bay Ridge street corner. Visitors can view the gallery from “the stoop,” an interior set of concrete steps lined with orange and gray cushions.
The Artist Studio, another BRIC House gallery space, currently features “Armchair Parade,” a collaboration between artists Julian Crouch, Mark Stewart and Ragnar Freidank. Crouch created 89 puppets—including human figures, animals and other creatures—which sit in armchairs in front of miniature televisions. Every so often a parade appears on the screens, depicting the puppets riding horses or driving cars. In the middle of room sits a long table with a 30-foot musical instrument called a “boing-boing,” which visitors can play when they enter the space.
“The collaboration between the three artists is a collaboration between three Brooklyn residents,” said Katie Clenney, who is the docent for the exhibition. “We definitely encourage all of Brooklyn to come and see what their fellow Brooklynites have created.”