The Brooklyn Academy of Music announces its next wave, and next steps
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The Brooklyn Academy of Music announces its next wave, and next steps
Amy Cassello, left, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s new artistic director, with Gina Duncan, its president, in New York, June 18, 2024. BAM, which has faced cutbacks in recent years, unveiled a reorganization as it announced its Next Wave Festival for the fall. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)

by Annie Aguiar

NEW YORK, NY.- The Brooklyn Academy of Music, a haven for international artists and the avant-garde that has been forced to reduce its programming and lay off workers in recent years, unveiled plans for a reorganization on Thursday as it announced its fall season.

The institution said that Amy Cassello, who has been with BAM for more than a decade, would officially become its artistic director, a position she had been holding on an interim basis. And it announced a new strategic plan that calls for programming more works that are still in development, establishing more partnerships with other presenting institutions and hiring a new community-focused “resident curator.”

BAM executives said they hoped that the plan would help usher in a new era for the institution after an exceptionally difficult period.

Like many nonprofit arts organizations, BAM has struggled financially since the pandemic, and its annual operating budget dropped. It has also been buffeted by leadership churn in recent years after decades of stability in its senior leadership ranks.

“I’m feeling really confident about our future,” said Gina Duncan, BAM’s president since 2022. “We were able to gain alignment across all of BAM’s communities and really arrive at a point in which we had a shared understanding of our history and what the future holds for us.”

The upcoming Next Wave Festival in the fall will have 11 events, up from eight in 2023, a difficult year when BAM laid off 13% of its staff to help fill what officials called a “sizable structural deficit.” But it will still not be as robust as it was in earlier eras, when the festival regularly staged many more programs.

This fall’s festival will see the return of “Still/Here,” a vital AIDS-era work by choreographer and director Bill T. Jones that premiered at BAM in 1994; an election week poetry program from the writer Hanif Abdurraqib; the Silkroad Ensemble with Rhiannon Giddens performing “American Railroad” and Alarm Will Sound performing “Sun Dogs,” which pairs new compositions with films.

“While it may not be the numbers it was in the prepandemic days, one of the main things for us throughout the strategic planning process has been about sustainable growth,” Duncan said.

Cassello said that when she became interim artistic director, she had not expected the role to become permanent. “I think where Gina landed and where the institution landed, it seemed quite organic and natural,” she said.

Officials hope the new leadership will bring stability after an unsettled period. BAM, which was steered for decades by leaders including Harvey Lichtenstein, Joseph V. Melillo and Karen Brooks Hopkins, has seen leaders come and go in recent years.

Duncan, who had previously been BAM’s vice president of film and strategic programming, succeeded Katy Clark, who left in 2021 after six years. (Clark was given a $968,000 hiring bonus that helped her buy an apartment, which she was able to keep when she left.) Cassello became interim artistic director last year, succeeding David Binder, a theater producer, who had joined BAM in 2019.

Cassello struck the right balance between having experience inside the institution and knowing how to think about the future, Duncan said.

“I really wanted a partner who had institutional memory, but was also was not going to be encumbered by it, but would embrace the best bits of that and shed what no longer serves us,” she said.

Duncan said that the new strategy is rooted in the institution’s history as a presenter and connector of the arts in Brooklyn, but that it ultimately positions BAM for the current moment and whatever comes next.

“What we really wanted to embrace is that BAM, just like Brooklyn, is eclectic, it’s vibrant, it’s unafraid,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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