Artists, writers and critics’ Open Letter: No Real Estate Summit at the Brooklyn Museum! (NY)
Dear Anne Pasternak and Trustees of the Brooklyn Museum;
As working artists, critics, and writers in New York City, many of us participants in past and upcoming shows at the Brooklyn Museum, we are profoundly upset to see that the museum has rented its space again to a major Real Estate Summit to be held on Tuesday, November 17th. We feel that this event is using the very culture we create and support to endorse profit-driven investment.
The mission of the Brooklyn Museum is to “act as a bridge between the rich artistic heritage of world cultures … to serve its diverse public as a dynamic, innovative, and welcoming center for learning through the visual arts.” Yet the Real Estate Summit states it will teach attendees “how to create value in places like Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Park Slope, Downtown Brooklyn, where it seems values are already maxed out.” As artists, critics, and writers, we cannot let this happen without speaking up and joining all the residents of Brooklyn who oppose the Summit.
The African-American community of Crown Heights, which is the Museum’s home, is in crisis, suffering daily displacements and tenant harassment. A mile or two away from the Museum, in Gowanus, over 300 artists just lost their studios in one building alone. Both of these examples are direct results of the tactics of the very people who are being welcomed by the Museum at this upcoming Summit. In September 2015, there were 59,305 homeless people, including 14,280 homeless families with 23,923 homeless children, sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system.
The organizers of the Real Estate Summit, upon learning of our intent to protest, proposed that a single artist be invited to speak to attendees. However, the Summit’s goals are in direct opposition to the needs of the majority of people who are struggling to pay rent in Brooklyn. Rents have increased 75% from 2000-2012, while the median household income for a family of four in Brooklyn is just $44,850. The conference’s stated goal to derive higher profits from Brooklyn real estate will exacerbate the ongoing displacement of thousands of New Yorkers, and therefore we decline the offer to participate.
Instead, we are asking the Brooklyn Museum to work with us as we pursue meaningful change in the following ways:
1) Convene an affordable housing and affordable workspace Summit that serves the communities that surround the Brooklyn Museum.
2) Change its rental policies so that they are not in opposition to the mission of the Museum.
3) Require that attendees at the Real Estate Summit on November 17th make real commitments to truly affordable space, starting by engaging directly with community members and members of organizations such as Picture the Homeless (PTH), the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN), Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts (NOCD-NY), the Crown Heights Tenants Union (CHTU), The Artist Studio Affordability Project (ASAP), the NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative (NYC REIC), Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), and the New York City Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI), to name just a few groups that should be involved.
4) Place at least one representative from an organization dedicated to preserving and creating truly affordable space (see #3 above) on the Museum’s Board.
5) Seriously consider BAN’s petition: Do NOT Host the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit!
If real estate development and concern for local community truly go together, this Real Estate Summit would focus on preserving affordable housing and affordable workspace. We ask that the Brooklyn Museum lead the path toward cultural equity in this city by making affordable space a priority in any conversation about real estate at the museum. As our city develops its first Cultural Plan, we ask that you demonstrate your support for our livelihoods and the livelihoods of all New Yorkers by making a commitment to truly affordable space for all residents of this City — not just artists.
We look forward to joining you in this conversation,
With deep concern,
ASAP and NYC artists
Brooklyn Museum: Do NOT Host the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit!
As residents of New York City and patrons of the Brooklyn Museum, we are appalled that the Brooklyn Museum is planning to host the 6th Annual Brooklyn Real Estate Summit on Tuesday, November 17th, 2015.
The 600+ top real estate owners, developers, and investors who will gather at the Brooklyn Museum are key players in the scourge of gentrification that is destroying working class communities and communities of color across the globe and most acutely here in Brooklyn. As housing prices soar, families are displaced, communities ripped apart and record numbers of New Yorkers—60,000 or more—are now homeless.
The Brooklyn Museum has long enjoyed a reputation as both a pillar in its community and as a forward-thinking cultural institution. On your website, you take pride in being part of and serving one of the “most diverse…urban centers in the world,” yet you are hosting a conference whose very aim is to eradicate that diversity from Brooklyn.
We, the undersigned demand the Brooklyn Museum to do right by its borough, by its patrons and by its own mission and cancel the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit.Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network
An Open Letter to the Brooklyn Museum Regarding their Hosting of the Sixth Annual Brooklyn Real Estate Summit
Greetings to the Brooklyn Museum,
My name is Sarah Quinter. I am an artist, activist, and born-and-raised New Yorker. I would like to start by saying that I have always been a fan of your programming. El Anatsui’s Gravity and Grace, Swoon’s Submerged Motherlands, and Wangechi Mutu’s A Fantastic Journey are some of the best shows I have ever seen. However, I have some serious concerns about an event you plan to host.
It has been brought to my attention that your museum will be hosting the 6th Annual Brooklyn Real Estate Summit on November 17th. I find this to be a problem. The Brooklyn Museum has long presented itself as a forward-thinking cultural institution, showcasing many artists of color, feminist, and queer artists, and hosting free community events like Target First Saturdays. However, hosting this real estate summit is counter to the Brooklyn Museum’s mission of serving the diverse communities of Brooklyn. The 600+ top real estate owners, developers, and investors gathering at the Brooklyn Museum to scheme about how to wring more profit from our neighborhoods are not serving us as Brooklynites. They are in fact contributing to the epidemic of gentrification that is decimating working class communities and communities of color in cities across the globe. When gentrification is discussed in popular media, everyone likes to take shots at silly kale-munching hipsters, but rarely do we examine the powerful players who are really driving mass displacement. Who are they? The very developers, investors, and politicians you plan to host.
According to the summit agenda, after paying their registration fees of over $500, attendees can learn how to squeeze more profit from “seemingly picked-over areas”. Apparently, gentrified neighborhoods like mine where some of us still manage to hang on are not yet sufficiently exploited. And sounding like hounds, workshop presenters ask, “Where is the bleeding edge of neighborhood transformation?” This language hints at the very real violence that gentrification incurs, sometimes actually resulting in blood being spilled. Notice the deliberate uptick in police enforcing racist “Broken Windows” policies in neighborhoods slated for “revitalization”. Consider the case of Alex Nieto, 28 year-old San Francisco native shot dead by police when a gentrifier called the cops on him for sitting on a park bench and “looking suspicious”. And of course, let us not forget that there are now 60,000 homeless New Yorkers, a number we have not seen since the Great Depression, and clearly correspondent with skyrocketing rents. Bleeding edges, indeed.
Workshop presenters also ask, “What is the next Atlantic Yards?”, invoking a notorious mega-development project most native to Brooklyn shudder to think of, rife as it was with lying and manipulation by developer Forest City Ratner and featuring ludicrous “affordable” units going to households earning more than $100,000 a year. With such a dearth of truly affordable housing, the last thing we need is another Atlantic Yards.
In light of all this, I must ask: by hosting this summit, who is the Brooklyn Museum really serving? it’s not serving me, despite my being a “young creative” Brooklyn resident. Growing up in the working class immigrant neighborhood of Jackson Heights and now residing in the similar neighborhood of Bushwick, I am watching the city that made me who I am disappear by the day. It’s no surprise that heavy-hitting politicians like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams are stars at the summit you plan to host. These are the same politicians who push policies that make displacement frighteningly easy for the developers they hobnob with, even as they pay lip service to siding with tenants.
I take this personally. Since my building is not rent stabilized, we were slapped with a thirty percent rent increase last year and now my landlord is denying lease renewals and threatening evictions, all with the law on his side. I have deep ties in my neighborhood and there are many reasons why being displaced would be an awful experience for me, but the most heartbreaking one would be possibly never seeing the little kids who live upstairs from me again. I’m really close with the children of the Ecuadorian immigrants who live in my building, but their father has already told me that if they keep getting squeezed, they’ll probably give in and move to Connecticut. New Yorkers are being scattered across the country, suffering the traumatic effects of “root shock” as Dr. Mindy Fulilove describes in her book by that name.
Again: who are you serving by hosting this summit? Not my best friend, a young Latina native to Bushwick who, along with her mom, has faced vicious harassment at the hands of a slumlord desperate to cash in on gentrification. Not the tearful grandmother I met as she was selling off her daughter’s and granddaughter’s things at a yard sale because they couldn’t keep up with the mortgage and had to move all the way to Florida. And not the “creatives” either, who, as luminaries like Patti Smith and David Byrne have pointed out, require affordable rents in order to create work that is genuinely challenging, groundbreaking, and meaningful. I wonder if the Brooklyn Museum will actually be able to find any new artists in Brooklyn to show in a few decades. This borough will be a creative graveyard soon enough if things don’t change. I urge you to “serve your diverse public” as you state in your mission and be a part of this change. Cancel the summit and let these vultures scheme elsewhere. Brooklyn will thank you.
Brooklyn Real Estate Summit: Response and Actions
The Brooklyn Museum cares deeply about issues that affect our communities. As you may have heard, on November 17th, an organization called Green Pearl is renting space in the Brooklyn Museum for their annual conference, the “Brooklyn Real Estate Summit.” On Tuesday we learned that artists, community organizers and our neighbors were upset that the conference is happening at our museum and had banded together to express their concerns about affordable housing and work spaces and protest the event. Of course we wanted to be responsive, and I want to let you know what we have done:
- We immediately reached out to the conference organizers and suggested they invite artists and organizers to speak at the conference on affordable housing and work spaces, which they did.
- We offered to host a separate forum on affordable housing and workspaces at the Museum so our community can discuss these important issues and share exciting models for change.
- We reached out to Sarah Quinter and other community organizers and invited them to meet to discuss their concerns.
- We will take a close look at our policies for hosting third-party events for the future.
We want you to know that we value all of the members of our community and we appreciate your care and support. We also value the discussions that are taking place and we look forward to being a part of the dialogue.
Shelby White and Leon Levy Director