Members of the Artist Studio Affordability Project (ASAP) capped a day of protest in front of the Brooklyn Museum Tuesday with a satirical installation of couches, chairs and other indoor furniture to highlight the consequences of neighborhood gentrification. The demonstration aimed to call out the fact that rent prices are out of reach for the artists who initiate the transformation of neglected areas from high crime warrens to bohemian communities highly prized by developers.
The installation, “Double Crossing Brooklyn,” was staged to coincide with a cocktail party scheduled inside the museum as part of the sixth annual Massey Knakal Real Estate Summit, a $500-per-seat gathering of significant players in the King’s County real estate and development community. The installation’s title is a response to a recent museum show, “Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and Beyond,” designed to demonstrate diversity in art and show its power to transform a community.
“We’re not opposed to real estate development, per se,” said noted artist and ASAP founder Jenny Dubnau. “Artists are looking for ways to coexist with developers, but there needs to be more affordable housing along with high-end construction. Otherwise, artists who help to change neighborhoods simply find themselves displaced, with few alternatives.”
Dubnau also echoed what many in the arts community believe: that it is unhealthy and inappropriate to host such a blatantly commercial event in a public building dedicated to culture like the Brooklyn Museum.
Brooklyn Museum Director Ann Pasternak responded to the day of protests with a letter to museum members that stated, in part: “While we are a civic organization that represents many communities, and like all museums in the city, we rent ourselves out for functions ranging from public school graduations to weddings, bar mitzvahs … we also understand that with the widening income inequality and the increased cost of living in New York City, why artists and others were upset.”
ASAP members drew emphasis to the theme of displacement by wrapping yellow crime-scene style tape with “GENTRIFICATION IN PROGRESS” printed on the surface around the trees that line the museum’s driveway, then setting up living room furniture along the sidewalk on Eastern Parkway. Once the furniture was in place, several dozen people lined up holding a massive “GENTRIFICATION IN PROGRESS” banner facing Eastern Parkway, while others carried signs designed in the yellow and black motif of safety warnings with messages such as: “FORECLOSE ON DEVELOPERS NOT PEOPLE” and “HOUSING FOR ALL.”
A number of passing motorists honked in support.
“When art collides with commerce, art loses,” critic Ben Davis told the group via bullhorn. “Culture,” he went on to say, “must not be co-opted by commerce!”
The evening concluded with a visit and inspirational sermon from activist and Windsor Terrace resident Billy Talen, of Rev. Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, whose speech, punctuated by his trademark “hallelujahs!” energized activists and put their efforts into the wider context of battling the growing chasm of income inequality that many believe afflicts modern U.S. and global society.