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BAM Gala Marks Leadership Change, Celebrates Brooklyn as ‘Cultural Center of New York’

Wednesday’s annual gala celebrating the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) served as a poignant moment of transition for the New York stalwart of contemporary performance. As long-time artistic director Joe Melillo, who along with Harvey Lichtenstein transformed BAM into a vanguard of progressive art, prepares to pass the torch to new leadership, gathered patrons and honorees celebrated BAM’s new life.

“Artistic processes have changed immensely, Melillo told Variety. “We’re now deeply into the twenty-first century, and we must respond to the challenges it places before us. I knew that a new artistic energy was essential to keep BAM’s trajectory moving forward.”

David Binder, BAM’s new artistic director, promised that this year’s Next Wave Festival, set to be announced this coming week, will honor the tradition of what Lichtenstein and Melillo did for contemporary performance while reinventing the organization’s programming. “We’ll be welcoming new artists and audiences in a way we’ve never done before,” he said.

Among those honored at last night’s gala was four-time Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke and legendary American author Walter Mosley.

“BAM is on a short list of very few institutions that actually elevate the collective consciousness of this city and country,” Hawke told Variety. “What BAM does — whether it’s movies, theater, dance, or rock and roll — is go places. It sends ideas to audiences in a way politics and religion cannot. It goes into our hearts and lets us know that we are one community,” he emphasized, adding “BAM educates the country, and without it we would live in a much darker place. This administration — and the political climate we’re living in — is making all of this seem incredibly life and death.”

“Places like BAM that bring really experimental and interesting work, work that may or not be for the masses, are essential,” Aya Cash, who plays Joan Simon in the FX show “Fosse/Verdon,” told Variety. “The key word these days is diversity, but we mean diversity in all aspects of life, and that includes diversity in art.”

Walter Mosley, whose Easy Rawlins series is among America’s most beloved mystery novels, enunciated the impact of BAM’s progressive work on the nation’s artistic sensibility.

“They sold out Manhattan somehow, and now Brooklyn is the cultural center of New York. And BAM is the cultural center of Brooklyn,” he reminded the gala’s attendees. “The voices of America, black or otherwise, are so varied and so deep. When we manage to come together and open our hearts to sing there is nothing that can not be accomplished, nothing that is impossible.”

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