Activism Pays Off, as Brooklyn Museum Embraces Anti-Gentrification Forum

It's a testament to lengthy negotiations between the museum and activists.

Protesters of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network hold protest signs outside Brooklyn Museum, the venue of the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. Photographer: Yana Paskova/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Protesters of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network hold protest signs outside Brooklyn Museum, the venue of the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. Photographer: Yana Paskova/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

Update 7/18/2016: The Brooklyn Community Forum on Anti-Gentrification and Displacement is now set to take place July 24, 2016.

Update 7/8/2016: This event has been rescheduled by the museum to a date “to be announced,” along with all other weekend programming. An announcement from the Brooklyn Museum says, “Because of an air-conditioning outage, the Brooklyn Museum will be closed tomorrow, Friday, July 8 through Sunday, July 10. Our team is working around the clock to replace the damaged systems during this time.”

 

Last November, anti-gentrification activists and artists protested the Brooklyn Museum as it played host to the 6th Annual Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, which many observers—myself included—thought looked tone-deaf given the hurricane-force gentrification hitting the communities the institution claims to serve. This coming weekend, some of those same activists and artists will be inside the museum for an event of their own: The Brooklyn Community Forum on Anti-Gentrification and Displacement, set for Sunday, July 10.

The day-long event is organized and co-presented by groups including the Artists of Color Bloc, the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, and the Movement to Protect the People, as well as several artists featured in “Agitprop!,” the museum’s ongoing survey of contemporary political art. It comes out of a long period of negotiation between museum head Anne Pasternak and activists following November’s protests.

The museum's graphic promoting the Community Forum. Image: Brooklyn Museum.

The museum’s graphic promoting the Community Forum. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

For the public, the first visible fruit of these negotiations was an addition to the “Agitprop!” in April of a display called A People’s Monument to Anti-Displacement, an information wall offering museum-goers information on displacement and information about the work of the Movement To Protect the People, a neighborhood activist group fighting rezoning.

 A People’s Monument to Anti-Displacement at the Brooklyn Museum.

A People’s Monument to Anti-Displacement at the Brooklyn Museum.

As for the upcoming Community Forum, the official details were blasted out only at the end of June. “The reason it is so last minute is because of how extraordinary the process has been,” artist Noah Fischer told me last week. According to those involved, the details have come together only after intense negotiations between museum and activists.

As recently as May, the Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP) posted to their blog denouncing the museum for co-opting the affair. “They indicated the theme, which is not going to discuss issues of ‘displacement and gentrification’ but will be about ‘preservation and diversity’ and the focus ‘must be through the lens of Artists’, not the people.”

On May 7, anti-gentrification protesters stormed the galleries to protest what activists described as broken promises over the summit, combining with a group called the Decolonial Cultural Front that was protesting “This Place,” an exhibition about Israel “as place and metaphor” that has drawn fire for presenting a sanitized image of Israeli occupation.

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2015/11/17: Gentrification In Progress tape in front of Brooklyn Museum. ASAP, Artists Studio Affordability Project, capped a day of protest in front of the Brooklyn Museum with an tongue-in-cheek installation of indoor furniture and signs decrying the displacement incurred by gentrification. (Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“Gentrification In Progress” tape in front of Brooklyn Museum. during the protests of the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit in November. Courtesy of Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

In the end, the subject of “anti-gentrification” is front and center. On its Facebook page MTOPP is promoting the event enthusiastically, calling it a “grass roots effort to help empower and support communities of color stay in their homes and to create effective strategies that have worked in other communities fighting displacement and gentrification.”

Indeed, a look at the program reveals the forum will have an unusually grounded list of events. “You’re invited to an afternoon of performances, panel discussions, small-group conversations, and more, all exploring the effects of gentrification and displacement on New Yorkers, specifically communities of color,” the museum’s official announcement states. “You’ll also hear about successful strategies led by people of color to protect and preserve their neighborhoods.”

The Summit includes both panels featuring testimony on the effects of gentrification from community members and ideas for how cultural institutions might support communities facing displacement amid Brooklyn’s transformation into the least affordable place to live in the United States.

“We all need to appreciate how important protest and resistance are in successful community organizing, development and preservation,” Tom Angotti, a well-known scholar on the history of development in New York, told me this morning, explaining the activist character of the Summit.

Angotti is moderating the panel titled “Successful Strategies and Stories on Rezoning and Development,” featuring Rene Kathawala of the Task Force for a Safe School, Alicia Boyd of MTOPP, and Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, which describes itself as Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization.

The Summit also includes a “Teen Roundtable,” a performance from the group Monsters of Brooklyn, and will conclude with a march down Washington Avenue.

Altogether, it looks more than promising. It is already a testament to the fact that struggle gets results.


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