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Brooklyn College performance series suddenly closes, fires staff

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It’s curtains for this beloved performance series.

Brooklyn College has abruptly shuttered its Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts and ended the Brooklyn College Presents performance series last week, firing all of its full-time staff.

The college discontinued the more than six-decade-old performance series due to delays in restoration work at its Whitman Hall venue, according to a spokesman for the college.

“Given the continued closure of the theater, it is not able to offer rentals or a full set of arts programming to the community until work is complete,” said college spokesman Ernesto Mora in a statement. “As a result, last week, the College had to let go four staff members who ran BCBC-Brooklyn College Presents.”

Some of the staff that were let go had worked for the company for as many as 40 years, and four other, part-time staff members were reassigned with reduced hours.

One person who asked not to be named out of fear of repercussions from school management told this paper that many staff thought Brooklyn College mishandled the situation.

“I’m not happy about what the college did, and the way people were let go, and their work was dismissed with very little notice. I think that CUNY and Brooklyn College treated people extremely poorly” said the source.

The series, formally known as the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College, was established in 1954 and was one of the largest theatrical presenters in the borough, welcoming more than 70,000 people per year, including 46,000 school children, parents, and teachers, according to its website. The program offered access to art and entertainment to many working-class Brooklynites with its affordable prices and the community and local pols were very supportive of it, according to the source.

“They’re taking away a main community performing arts center from Brooklyn that has been supported by the community and our politicians for decades. All these kids won’t have this opportunity anymore” the source said.

Whitman Hall opened in 1955 as the centerpiece of Brooklyn College’s Performing Art’s Center with a 2,400-seat theater. The restoration work on the venue started in June 2017 and was initially scheduled to last a year, but the college announced last week that it wouldn’t be finished until spring of 2019, according to a press release.

“It’s going to take more time to complete the upgrades, and we look forward to welcoming the public through our doors when restoration is finished,” said Maria Ann Conelli, dean of the college’s School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts, in the press release.

Once finished, the restored venue will still provide space for performances, according to Mora.

“Once restoration is complete and Whitman Hall reopens, the college looks forward to restarting rentals, schooltime offerings, and a larger slate of arts programming for the wider community,” he said.

The director of one of the venue’s regular dance shows was dismayed and taken aback by the sudden closure, which he only learned about when this paper contacted him for comment.

“We’re very saddened because this is our foothold in Brooklyn,” said Andy Chiang, executive director of the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, which puts on an annual performance for the Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations between January and February.

The closure will leave the dance company scrambling to find a replacement venue on such short notice for its upcoming celebrations at the end of January 2019, according to Chiang.

“This is kind of late in the game, usually these things are done a year in advance so it may not be that easy to find a replacement,” he said.

But the biggest loss will be for the community because the annual festivities brought together people from different backgrounds in a family-friendly setting, he said.

“The Lunar New Year has stories for kids and people can participate with it, so it’s great for families,” said Chiang, adding that the annual event typically attracted some 1,000 visitors to the Brooklyn venue, drawn to the face-to-face interaction it offers.

“It’s a very personal thing, it’s not a Facebook experience, it’s a very lively interactive experience, and there’s more need for that sort of experience these days. We need these places to be able to engage with each other face to face,” he said.

The impact of this closure will be felt by the large local Asian-American community and Brooklynites of all backgrounds, he said.

“There’s a huge Chinese-American community in Brooklyn, and we’re in touch with them and all the impact will be felt very strongly for not just the Asian American community that comes out, but also the local community more generally,” he said.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 3:03 pm, September 12, 2018
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Reader feedback

Robert Adamski from Bay Ridge says:
Why don’t they use another venue until Whitman is ready?
Sept. 11, 4:14 pm

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