Artists, writers and critics' Open Letter: No Real Estate Summit at the Brooklyn Museum!
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,
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