The Arts are a Bridge to Cultural Understanding in our Neighborhoods

Photo Credit: Fred Brown

In my previous blogs, I have encouraged readers to collaborate locally; use local media, and use local platforms to share stories about their efforts to collaborate and engage with multicultural audiences. Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on BK Live, along with Eric Frazier, musician and founder of the Fort Greene Park Jazz Festival. We discussed our efforts to keep intact indigenous community culture as migration (or gentrification) takes place throughout Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is home to one of the largest African-American populations in the United States. However, since the early 2000s the migration of former Manhattan residents to the Fort Greene neighborhood in search of lower rents or less expensive property has changed the character of what was previously a predominant, African-American neighborhood.

The gentrification of Fort Greene recently was the focus of a study conducted by Associate Professor Themis Chronopoulos, who teaches American Studies at a university in the U.K.Professor Chronopoulous’s study was published in the December 2016 issue of the Journal for African American Studies. Noting that the white population will soon become the majority in Fort Greene, Professor Chronopoulos added: Gentrification actually goes beyond displacement and includes the replacement and exclusion of certain populations from a neighborhood.”He also wrote that gentrification can lead to the decline of a cultural and commercial infrastructure cherished by the previous residents.

That’s why, in the face of gentrification, neighborhood transitions and the displacement of the African-American community, cultural events like the Fort Greene Jazz Festival are so vital. The festival was launched in 2010 by Eric Frazier, who is a multi-talented composer and musician. In addition to working to perfect his own craft as an artist, Eric created a weekly showcase for up-and-coming musical talent to perform. The festival features those young musicians, as well as noted, seasoned professionals, providing high-quality, live jazz entertainment for families and jazz lovers who live in Fort Greene, other neighborhoods in Brooklyn, as well as the other four boroughs of New York City. The Fort Greene Jazz Festivalis a gateway or bridge for bringing together the diverse groups of people currently inhabiting the western corner of Brooklyn. And they’re getting together in celebration of music that is indigenously African-American.

The interview on BK Live was produced by BRIC-TV— the first 24/7, cable and online television channel created by, for, and about Brooklyn, New York. It is the borough’s treasured resource for local news, Brooklyn culture, civic affairs, music, arts, sports, and technology. BRIC-TV features programming produced and curated by BRIC, an arts and media nonprofit located in downtown Brooklyn. I am particularly heartened by the number of young people of color who are involved with BRIC. Many thanks to show/segment producer Fred Brown for making it happen. Take a look at the interview, which is just one example!

BK Live Interview`

 I love this interview for many reasons. First, I’m always grateful for the opportunity to talk about the work my company does in the local community, as well as internationally, and the importance of building partnerships and relationships for sustainability of the arts. But even more, we need advocates who have the means to promote this message to an even wider audience. I love that the hosts—Brian Vines and Aaron Phillip Watkins—are two of Brooklyn’s finest young men who understand that the arts are an integral bridge to cultural understanding. As Aaron said in the intro, quoting the late French author Andre Maurois, “art is an effort to create…a more humane world.”

Through their joint and individual projects on BRIC-TV, both Brian and Aaron are dedicated to using their platforms to remind all of us of the importance and value of cultural understanding and the enriching benefits of respecting our indigenous communities, artists and the arts.With the events like the Fort Greene Jazz Festival, Brooklyn has the potential to become a leading example of what it means to build bridges of cultural understanding when neighborhoods are changing. And those bridges of cultural understanding are the first steps on the path to a more peaceful, humane and just world.