Today the Brooklyn Museum played host to the 6th Annual Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, which became a hot-button source of controversy earlier this month after anti-gentrification activists criticized the nature of the event and the museum’s involvement with it. The theme for this year’s summit, according to its website, is how new Brooklyn developments “will shape the borough into a place to live, work and play,” and while 600 of the “top retail, condo, multifamily and office players in the Brooklyn market” (as well as politicians like former governor Eliot Spitzer and the current borough president, Eric Adams) gathered within the museum this morning, a group of protestors congregated along a frosty Eastern Parkway.
“The purpose of this real-estate summit is for foreign and local investors to look at the communities and decide on where they’re going to invest their money,” said Alicia Boyd, part of the leadership of the Brooklyn Anti-gentrification Network (BAN), which organized the protests, bringing together a coalition of community members and grassroots organizing groups.
Boyd, speaking as a member of the organization Movement to Protect the People, addressed several dozen fellow protesters. “We’re here to protest that particular economic strategy because it causes a major amount of displacement of communities of color and we are at an all-time high when it comes to displacement,” she said. “We’ve got about 60,000 people in our shelter system and about half of them are children of color. We feel like we’re under attack, so we are here to say, ‘No.’ ”
Boyd has lived in Brooklyn her entire life and as a former teacher spent many years visiting the Brooklyn Museum. “I used to bring my students here,” she said in a slightly bitter tone, noting that the institution’s stated commitment is to serving “its diverse public as a dynamic, innovative, and welcoming center for learning through the visual arts.”
“I’m very disappointed in them hosting this summit and not taking into consideration the serious issues that our communities are facing,” Boyd said. “We will not treat them like they’re ignorant, they know that the real-estate industry is behind gentrification and yet they are supporting this initiative.”
In an effort to halt the proceedings, Brooklyn artists, writers, and critics had sent a petition to the Brooklyn Museum. While not acceding to the petition’s demands, the museum did acknowledge the petition, said that it would review its policies regarding renting to outside groups, and offered to host an event about affordable spaces. This morning it welcomed the protesters with boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts.
However, it was going to take a lot more than a couple of confections to win the favor of community activist and BAN member Imani Henry. “Black and brown artists are under attack,” he told me before the press conference. He spoke of numerous black and Latino artists who are “criminalized” as a result of the city’s broken-windows policing, and said that he sees the issue as largely one of context. “If we only think of art in the context of what hangs on [the Brooklyn Museum’s] wall, or only in the context of what the ‘white industry’ says is art, then we’ve lost the vast majority of creative people in this city,” he said. “On top of losing our studios, or spaces to perform, we’re also losing our homes, being brutalized and beaten up.”
Henry took up his bullhorn to address the crowd. “We want to deliver a clear message to Eric Adams, who is speaking here today, who’s chosen to speak instead of stand with the people of Brooklyn,” he said. “When we talk about Brooklyn Museum and artists, we want to talk about all artists.”
Boyd echoed Henry’s points. “On a continuous basis [the Brooklyn Museum] talks about supporting local artists, especially artists of color, and yet those artists’s communities are under attack,” she said. “Instead of protecting us from the real-estate board, our local politicians are paving the way for foreign investors to come in and make money… It is clear that our politicians, and now even our cultural institutions, are no longer representing us. It is clear that it’s time for a change. It is clear that it is time for a revolution.” She also spoke about homelessness in the city.
“It is clear that it is time for a what?” Boyd screamed, and received a rapturous reply from the crowd: “Revolution!”
“We’ve got to stop this fucking madness, we got to shut this down, otherwise we’re going to be on the streets,” said Boyd. “Those 60,000 people are going to be 80,000 people and then 100,000 and then 150,000 people because they’re not stopping unless we stop them.”