Gotham Gazette

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Heart of Brooklyn


The lion's share of New York City's art and cultural media attention, and resulting visitor traffic, seems to go to the cultural institutions located in Midtown Manhattan and the Museum Mile. That is great for the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney. But how do you compete for a share of that audience when your cultural institution resides outside that mid-Manhattan preserve?

A group of six Brooklyn institutions has found a solution by banding together to promote themselves as a cultural destination -- in the Heart of Brooklyn.

Established informally in 1998 by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children's Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn Public Library, Prospect Park Alliance and Prospect Park Zoo, the Heart of Brooklyn Cultural Consortium is a model of intra-institutional collective action. The directors and trustees of the member organizations share a vision of heightening cultural awareness and substantially increasing programming opportunities for their membership and the public.

"It just makes a great deal of sense to bring it all together. We all have existing programming relationships, but it seemed better to work together formally rather than just on an ad-hoc basis" says Arnold Lehman, board member of Heart of Brooklyn and director of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. "More than that, our goals are to tell people how easy it is to get to the Heart of Brooklyn and how much there is to do when you're here. From art and science to a stroll in the park, there's something for everyone and all ages."

Educational programming is a highlight of Heart of Brooklyn Activities. It is a vehicle for increasing access to the vast educational and cultural resources and collections of the member institutions, and it is a way to promote each of the Heart of Brooklyn projects through the member institutions.

Branding the Heart of Brooklyn as a "better and stronger destination point for the people of Brooklyn and the city is certainly a major goal of ours" says Tupper Thomas, president of the Consortium (as well as president of Prospect Park Alliance and administrator of Prospect Park). "But mostly we're working on a number of wonderful projects that we've worked on for a number of years, like the Trolley and the Children's Adventure Program."

The members of Heart Of Brooklyn jointly participate in a variety of activities:

Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program is a recreational camp for children 10 to 12 years old representing a broad cross-section of Brooklyn's population. It was created in 1998 to engage children in fun, educational activities in summer and winter that introduce them to each institution's collections.

The Brooklyn Expedition is a web site that increases educational services to the community by offering teachers, children and families the resources of three major Brooklyn institutions, the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Public Library.

Additionally, five of the consortium's members collaborate to run the Heart of Brooklyn Trolley, with hourly stops throughout Prospect Park and its neighboring cultural institutions. The trolley is free of charge and connects with the Brooklyn Children's Museum Trolley.

"Heart of Brooklyn is working because it's a good idea, and also because the directors are enthusiastic about working together" says Ellen Salpeter. "During the extensive planning process, we studied institutional partnerships in other parts of the country and found that ours was unique in its diversity of membership." They have served as a model for proposed partnerships in Queens, Staten Island and Newark.

"We're a very collegial group, which isn't always the norm" says Tupper. "This group of institutions has something very unique to offer, unlike anything in the world."

The official announcement of the creation of the Heart of Brooklyn Cultural Consortium will be made in February.

Simon Watson is the executive director of Downtown Arts Projects, a New York-based non profit dedicated to emerging artists of all disciplines.

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