New art center in Brooklyn: BRIC

This month, multidisciplinary nonprofit BRIC opened their 40,000-square-foot space in downtown Brooklyn that unites their programs in visual art, performance, and media under one roof.

I stopped by the sleek new BRIC House to catch the last day of the Armchair Parade, a collaborative installation by theater designer and director Julian Crouch, musician and composer Mark Steward, and filmmaker Ragnar Freidank that filled the new BRIC House artist studio with incredibly detailed puppets riveted by televisions. In the center of the room was a 24-foot-long lamellophone instrument played by keys where you could sit down and add some clanging to the disconcertingly lively music that accompanied the videos droning on each television. A stork hunched forward to watch a video of a stork cavorting with a baby on a stage; a skeleton-faced being stared at a dancing skeleton puppet. It was as creepy as it sounds, which was awesome, and as the inaugural event of the space and the Fireworks residency program for large-scale artist team work, holds a lot of promise for future engaging collaborations.

The artist studio that held the installation is only a small part of the space, which was developed from the 1918 Strand Theater by architect Thomas Leeser with Leeser Architecture. There’s also a performance space with retracting chairs that can hold between 240 and 400 people, and a television studio for BRIC’s Brooklyn Independent Television that is visible from the Hungry Ghost cafe in the main lobby, where currently a vibrant mural by Tasmania-to-Brooklyn transplant Garry Nicholsis displayed. The mural is expected to rotate based on the exhibition in the 3,000-square-foot gallery that’s alongside, accessible by stairs that slope down alongside BRIC’s “Stoop” where they are holding free community-oriented events. The first exhibition to try out this expansive gallery space is Housewarming: Notions of Home from the Center of the Universe curated by BRIC’s Director of Contemporary Art Elizabeth Ferrer and showcasing 12 Brooklyn artists, including Nichols which creates a nice link between the focal points in the vast space.

Before this massive space, BRIC has been most visible with their Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park, but this hub should allow for much more interaction between their programs in contemporary art, performance, and community media classes in things like video production and digital storytelling. It also links them to UrbanGlass next door, whose space was part of the Leeser Architecture transformation. Yet more than that, it situates them right in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District that is blossoming with new construction, such as the Theater for a New Audience that just opened across the street, along with its existing neighbors like the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Mark Morris Dance Center. It will be interesting to see if this new center for collaborative art sustains itself into the future, which will require bringing much more than the immediate community into their programming. But BRIC has a lot to work with at the BRIC House, and more than anything the predominantly white-walled, glass-lined space feels like a blank slate ready for something to happen.