Fort Greene

BRIC’s annual gala merges art, commerce, fun

October 27, 2016 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Supporters fill the main BRIC theater for a sit-down dinner and live auction during BRIC’s October gala. Eagle photos by Andy Katz

Downtown Arts Colossus Raises More than $300K for Outreach, Training and Support

“Gonzo” master of ceremonies Willy Appelman moves around the floor like a young Bob Barker invoking Elvis. “Complete this sentence: ‘Momma’s coming home, and you had better clean up  your…?’” he demands of the audience as they sit on the amphitheater steps, drinks in hand, laughing at his frenetic energy. Behind Appelman, a trio of local artists, backs to the crowd, apply paints to blank canvases.

“Jambalaya…?” offers one man after a brief pause.

“Momma’s coming home, and you better clean up your jambalaya!” Appelman agrees before moving on to the next mad lib. Appelman’s word-play shtick has something to do with what artists Mike Perry, Jing Wie and Ana Benaroya are painting on the canvases behind him, but it’s kind of hard to say what exactly.

It might be harder still to remember that this is BRIC, a place where art is taken seriously. Since its inception in 1979 as The Fund for the Borough of Brooklyn, BRIC has grown substantially in size and influence. Just three years ago, the nonprofit arts organization took over its present 66,000-square-foot home on Fulton Street, and now boasts several galleries, a performance space, theater and classrooms that provide low-cost training in video and digital photography.

BRIC’s annual gala began several hours earlier with cocktails and a silent auction. Supporters perused some of the items up for sale while entering bids into apps on their smart phones. “There’s a piece over there, I really want it,” Kate Renzler explained. “But it’s very different from bidding in an open auction.”

“Which is even more dangerous,” her husband, Fred Renzler, added.

An open auction was also on the agenda, however. Members of the band Red Baraat rang the dinner gong with a sousaphone, drums and a clarinet, leading the group into the center’s main theater where a sit-down dinner and live auction were scheduled.

“We’re the only Downtown nonprofit that can sell high-end art,” auctioneer Lucy Sexton pointed out.

Artworks that ultimately brought in thousands of dollars included “There Was No Gold,” by renowned Puerto Rican artist Juan Sanchez; Liz Nielsen’s “Cocktail Party” and the photograph “Hurricane XII” by Clifford Ross.

“Tonight is your chance to make a good decision!” Sexton urged after the auction as guests were invited to donate specific amounts that would fund an artist in residence, send a child to art camp for the summer or pay for a school’s art program for the semester.

Many did. The gala wound up raising more than $300,000 in support of BRIC programs.

BRIC’s mission is to make art and the tools of art accessible.  In furtherance of that goal, BRIC not only supports painters and sculptors, the organization also produces TV programs broadcast on public access channels, music festivals, video projects, afterschool programs and adult education.

As a nonprofit offering low-cost services, BRIC relies on funding from the public and from businesses large and small. National Grid, Viacom, JP Morgan/Chase and Forest City Ratner are just a few of the well-known heavy hitters. But corporations need tax write offs. What’s really telling in how well BRIC accomplishes its mission is the support it receives from actual working artists. Of the three who donated their time and talent to create spontaneous paintings for raffle under the frenetic supervision of Appelman, only one, Jing Wei, had had any contact with BRIC prior, and that only briefly.

Said Mike Perry: “This is our first collaboration with BRIC and, right from the beginning, they supported our ideas and provided a safe platform for live experimentation. We were honored when they reached out and look forward to growing our partnership.”

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