Bushwick

Nightlife vs. Gentrification: Brooklyn as a cultural breeding ground

Panel of experts discusses NYC's new office of nightlife

February 28, 2018 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Bushwick Starr. Eagle photos by Andy Katz

Dozens of Brooklynites gathered Tuesday at The Bushwick Starr, a community arts center in Bushwick, for a panel discussion with several influential nightlife professionals.

The gathering, dubbed “Because The Night,” focused on Brooklyn as a cultural breeding ground.

Several subjects intimate to North Brooklyn were discussed, including the effects of gentrification, the future of the nightlife industry, the challenges and perks of operating a venue in New York City and the expected benefits of the forthcoming Office of Nightlife.   

With a floor-to-ceiling wooden jukebox as the backdrop, participants were offered unfiltered access to owners of some of Brooklyn’s most popular music venues.

Sipping craft beers underneath a miniature disco ball fastened to the ceiling, attendees asked questions and spoke candidly with a group of individuals who are attempting to revolutionize Brooklyn’s music scene.

The panel included Dhruv Chopra, partner at Elsewhere and PopGun Presents; Belvy Klein, co-founder of Brooklyn Bazaar; Johnny Beach, Bowery Ballroom talent buyer; and Ami Spishock, co-founder of Fort William Artist Management.

North Brooklyn Angels Director of Operations and North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce board member Felice Kirby poses a question to the panel.

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Daniel Stedman, co-founder of Northside Media and Northside Festival, acted as moderator.

Chopra, who works at Elsewhere, a 24,000-square-foot East Williamsburg club, cafe and art gallery that opened in November, said it’s important to amend the stigma associated with nightlife.

“This is really the first time that, especially in Brooklyn and North Brooklyn, that this community has organized,” Chopra said. “Music venues, venue owners, hospitality folks, these are very individualistic, rebellious people, and [coming together] doesn’t come naturally.

“This is a great community of folks that are trying to change the perception that we are legitimate business owners, these are legitimate art forms. We’re not club owners hiding cash in the walls. We’re legitimately trying to do something good for this community.”  

Guest panelist Dhruv Chopra, partner at Elsewhere and Popgun Presents.

The panel agreed that a positive trend within the Brooklyn music scene is the expanding tastes of fans and their willingness to support up-and-coming artists, as well as established ones.

Attendees acknowledged that while arts and cultural institutions are positive for communities, they also play a role in an issue intimate to Brooklyn: gentrification.

“There’s no good answer, other than the fact that it’s like a snake eating its tail,” Chopra said. “We are the victims and culprits of it. It seems like it’s a never-ending cycle, especially in New York City, where everything keeps getting pushed out and out and rents go up.

“What do we do about keeping artists here and immigrant families that have been here forever? We don’t have a good solution, but we’re open to ideas.”

Klein, who is co-owner of the Brooklyn Bazaar, a multipurpose event space in Greenpoint, said his business has been a catalyst of gentrification, but also a casualty of it.

His business has helped rebuild neighborhoods, but once other companies arrived, Klein’s rents increased, and he was forced to leave.

“It’s a Catch 22,” Klein said. “You go in, and you’re not trying to [trigger gentrification], but our last location is now a BMW creative workspace. You get companies that come in, and they never would have gone there if we weren’t there.

“We made this empty strip viable for this multinational company, and then we get evicted.”

Stedman said the key to keeping competing businesses open is having them all work concurrently.

“We do shows in McCarren Park, and we shut down Bedford Avenue, and we also incorporated a three-day innovation conference,” Stedman said of Northside Festival. “Northside is about discovery.

“Our sweet spot and what makes us unique is our programming of the club shows. The goal of Northside is to take all of the clubs and make them better over the nights of Northside than they are any other night of the year.”

Northside Festival, which is entering its 10th year, hosted Chance The Rapper’s first show in New York City.

Another topic discussed was whether nightlife venues could be utilized during the day for classes and other events when they are normally closed.

One attendee said she was staunchly against the opening of the Brooklyn Bazaar, fearing that her neighborhood would become too loud, crowded and dirty, but she admitted that she is now supportive of the venue and routinely brings her kids there for events.

The L-train shutdown, of course, was mentioned briefly. The crowd booed as the impending closure was brought up, and all panelists agreed that the 15-month disruption would be detrimental to North Brooklyn and its businesses.

Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants, Northside, Brooklyn Magazine, Swyping, Anella and ABS Partners Real Estate sponsored the event.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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