For more than a century, the Brooklyn Academy of Music was just one theater, originally on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights and later replaced, in 1908, by a Beaux-Arts building on Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene.
But then the academy added the BAM Harvey Theater in 1987. And a decade later, it turned a playhouse in the Lafayette Avenue building into a cinema complex. Then, just a few years ago, the academy opened another theater, the BAM Fisher, next door.
And so it has gone for a performing arts center whose growth has mirrored and, in many ways, helped drive the real estate and cultural boom in Downtown Brooklyn.
In what is being heralded as the last piece of its evolution (at least for now), BAM is preparing one more addition. The academy announced on Friday a $25 million building project to link three of its spaces, create permanent visual art galleries and provide new patron amenities.
“It will unite the whole block,” said Karen Brooks Hopkins, BAM’s longtime president, who stepped down in June. “This is the last piece of the BAM campus.”
Much has changed at the academy since it first opened in 1861. Its current Fort Greene neighborhood is now considered among New York’s most desirable — and expensive — residential areas.
New York City has funneled some $100 million into the Brooklyn Cultural District, which includes more than 40 nonprofit visual, performing and media arts organizations like the Mark Morris Dance Center, Theater for a New Audience and the BRIC House arts center. The district is roughly bordered by Flatbush Avenue, Fulton Street, Hanson Place and St. Felix Street. In addition, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts recently announced that it was moving from one part of the district to another. And the Center for Fiction is moving to the area from its longtime Manhattan home on East 47th Street.
It is partly because of all this growth that BAM felt it was important to initiate an expansion that would help establish an anchor on the cultural district’s northern border.
The project is called BAM Strong, for the Strong siblings, children of Brigitte Vosse, the main donor and a trustee. The expansion will connect the BAM Harvey Theater (at 651 Fulton Street) with a vacant site (653 Fulton Street) and the ground floor of a high-rise condominium at 230 Ashland Place.
“We need to have that presence on the corner as the neighborhood gets built up — we want to make sure our patrons know there’s a BAM Harvey down the street,” said Alan H. Fishman, the academy’s chairman. “The world around BAM is changing so rapidly, and the world around Brooklyn is changing so rapidly, you’ve got to react to it.”
While BAM helped pave the way for pioneering theater, music and dance, it initially struggled to attract theatergoers to what was once a gritty area. Until 2013, the academy provided the BAMbus, to transport audience members to and from Manhattan. Now, BAM is considered the elder statesman of the avant-garde, a model that has been widely emulated around the world.
“When I got to New York, it was this funky organization,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s cultural affairs commissioner. “It’s become this absolute powerhouse of an organization with amazing capacity and breadth.”
The city has contributed $6.2 million to the latest project. BAM has raised $17 million so far.
Work is to begin shortly and will continue over the next two years, with completion scheduled for September 2017.
The project calls for new balcony seating in the Harvey and a one-story structure at 653 Fulton Street between BAM’s sites at 651 Fulton Street and 230 Ashland Place, which will have a cafe on the ground floor.
The properties facing Fulton Street will be connected by a new canopy that telegraphs BAM’s presence. “The idea is to use the marquee to connect the iconic old theater facade and adjacent spaces as a monolithic whole,” said Paul Broches, a partner at Mitchell Giurgola Architects, the project’s designer.
The Harvey, in a former 1904 vaudeville theater that became a first-run movie house before it was abandoned, has not received much attention since it was originally renovated by Hugh Hardy in 1987 to be the performing arts center’s second, somewhat smaller theater.
“We have to improve the Harvey customer experience,” Mr. Fishman said. “We’re going to make the people who sit in the balcony a lot happier.”
There will also be a visual art exhibition space and a sculpture terrace featuring art commissioned as part of a new public art program that was announced in June.
“Part of the branding of BAM will be bringing art and theater together,” Mr. Broches said.
With $3.5 million from the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, BAM plans to use public art to define and connect sites on its campus.
While BAM has presented visual art programming before, this project represents an effort to do so in a more deliberate, continuing way. “If we get it right, it will make the visual arts program that much more interesting,” Mr. Fishman said, “much like the cinema program was at the beginning.”
The institution has also secured space on the second and third floors of a residential tower currently under construction by Two Trees Management on the south site of the cultural district. The space will feature movies and the organization’s archives and is to be called the BAM Karen after Ms. Hopkins, who has been succeeded by Katy Clark, most recently of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
“Having defined cultural uses in the bases of these buildings — whether it’s BAM or other institutions — that’s the most important thing,” Ms. Hopkins said, “to keep the district from turning into a bunch of chain stores and Anywhere, U.S.A.”
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