Testimony of BRIC
Before the New York City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations
By Leslie G. Schultz, President, BRIC
May 4, 2016

Good afternoon. I’m Leslie Schultz, President of BRIC. Thank you Committee Chairman Van Bramer and the members of the Cultural Affairs Committee for holding this hearing and inviting BRIC to testify. For nearly four decades, BRIC has been dedicated to making arts and media genuinely accessible and relevant. As the leading presenter of free cultural programming in Brooklyn, and one of the largest in New York City, hundreds of thousands of people attend our live programs each year, and many more participate via our innovative digital offerings.  In our work, BRIC strives to serve audiences and artists who reflect the diverse demographics of our City, across ethnic, socio-economic, age, and gender boundaries.

BRIC believes that the arts have the power to move beyond representation and critique into work that directly enables communities to effect change, both in attitude and in action. As a catalyst for social and political change, art is unique in its capacity to provide the tools and platforms for community members to represent their own experiences and aspirations, to enable visionary thinking and practice, and to bring communities together to engage in challenging conversations that can lead to advocacy, action, and change.

Because of the long history and extensive reach of our programs, we have seen first-hand the impact that BRIC’s programs have on our community. These art-based projects actively contribute to the struggles for equity and social justice in our city through a number of approaches.

Some artwork directly catalyze social action: we have seen Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man play about Rodney King spontaneously lead to a street-protest against police violence. In another example from our most recent gallery exhibition, we have seen  how artist Sol Aramendi is working with day-laborers to create an app to report wage-theft and hold employers accountable.

Other works prompt reflection, and create the opportunity for people to consider the kind of future they want to create. We have seen artists, such as the accomplished Brooklyn painter and activist Juan Sanchez, testify to his ongoing struggle with the expectations that his work be political at all times. Sometimes, Mr. Sanchez stated, “Art can also remind us what we are fighting for,”  meaning the space and time to reflect on the beauty, patterns, textures and inspirations in the world around him. This very approach is catalytic  -- Sanchez’s envisioning of a different type of future is itself a call to action. The very lack of direct answers or imperatives can offer moments of reflection and questioning, which are modes of resistance against forces of inequality and oppression.

Art can also deepen our understanding of social issues in powerful ways, and provide a means for self-representation. We have seen this with the hundreds of community producers who learn to create their own media at BRIC, and tell their own stories on Brooklyn Free Speech TV.

Similarly, working with young people in the arts, has allowed us to witness first-hand this catalytic power of creative expression. As a part of New York City’s new, school-based Anti-Gun Violence program, BRIC is working with students from PS/MS 208 in Bedford Stuyvesant to develop an original mural for their school that draws from their personal experiences of gun violence.

Adding a further dimension to the mural project, students are documenting their discussion and process in a collaboratively-made video. This documentary will reveal how art-making necessarily involves dialog and debate, especially when youth are empowered to create and direct their own expression. BRIC’s educational programs reach thousands of students occupying the “art deserts” of our borough, introducing the creative and critical opportunities that come with art-making. Some programs are directly tied to urgent social and political issues and others take a more playful approach. However they all provide a uniquely empowering space for youth to create, collaborate, and direct their own representation and expression.

Art can catalyze change in a multiplicity ways, some of which are direct and some of which are less obvious but equally effective.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify to this urgent issue. We encourage the City to continue providing support to the artists, arts, and cultural institutions that enable our society to envision and enact the more just and equitable future we all strive for in our city.