Fort Greene

Leslie Schultz to step down as BRIC’s president after 13 years

June 19, 2018 By Benjamin Preston Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BRIC President Leslie Schultz is preparing for her last day on June 26. Photo courtesy of BRIC

Walking into BRIC House from its entrance on Rockwell Place, the most striking feature is the Stoop, a set of giant concrete steps cascading from a cafe down to the gallery space below. On a gray weekday, the Stoop is dotted with human forms — a pair talking, mid-Stoop and others, here and there, reading and listening to music on their smartphones. The gallery walls below bristle with colorful paintings by children from schools throughout Brooklyn. It’s easy to imagine the steps filled with people watching a film, lecture or musical performance.

“This building is unlike anything else in New York City — it’s the heart of what we’ve accomplished,” Leslie G. Schultz, who has served as BRIC’s CEO since 2005, said.

Located in the midst of the Brooklyn Cultural District, BRIC House stands as the physical embodiment of a dream realized. It is the nerve center of BRIC, an arts and media non-profit that ties together various threads of culture, social justice and community. It wasn’t always that way. When Schultz took the helm at BRIC–which had then been humming along for more than a quarter-century — its programs were spread around the borough.

Under Schultz’s leadership, the half-abandoned Strand Theater, on Fulton Street — then home to BRIC’s Brooklyn Community Access Television and UrbanGlass, a nonprofit dedicated to the art of glassblowing — was transformed into the multidimensional arts and media complex it is today. The $45 million project transformed the former vaudeville and movie theater into a collection of performance, production, educational and gallery spaces that serve as a sort of loom for the weaving of Brooklyn’s rich cultural tapestry.

“From the start, my vision was for everyone to understand what was obvious to me — that everyone was connected,” Schultz said. “BRIC is a way to bring together artists, media makers and community. There were a lot of ways to do that, and putting this building together was a big part of that.”

Above the Stoop, off to one side of the cafe, stand the entrances to a small gallery and some television production studios. Deeper inside the building, past the reception desk are a black box theater for theater, dance and music concerts, public receptions and town hall meetings, and another space, the Artist Studio,  which is used for artist residencies and small ensemble performances. Upstairs are the classrooms and recording studios, which are usually abuzz with activity. Some of the control rooms there are larger than the ones you would see at a typical radio or television station, to accommodate classes covering their operation. People of all ages and backgrounds fill the podcasting and editing suites lining the corridor.

“We’ve created a culture of collaboration,” Schultz said. “I think BRIC recognizes that there’s such a tight connection between art and social justice.”

During Schultz’s tenure, BRIC’s programming has expanded to include everything from Brooklyn Free Speech TV, BRIC JazzFest and Stoop Series public conversations with artists to collaborations with Project Re-Direct, an effort by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to reduce recidivism among young people. Schultz said at least one of the young men BRIC has worked with through the DA’s Office went on to participate in a post-production training program offered by the city’s Small Business Services department.

“BRIC has been a bridge between the criminal justice system and media workforce training,” she said. “Who would have expected this?”

Even with BRIC House as its hub, Schultz says the organization still has outreach programs that serve communities in more far-flung parts of the borough.

“I would argue that there are 15 Brooklyns,” she said. “You can’t expect that people are going to come to downtown Brooklyn for their cultural programs.”

Before she came to BRIC, Schultz worked as an attorney, specializing in nonprofit organizations. Though she admits she knew little about their inner workings at the time, there was something about arts organizations she found appealing.

“The decisions my clients were making were much more exciting than the ones I was making,” she recalled. “I went from college to law school and never looked sideways at what else there was in the world. I always had an idea that someday I’d do something different.”

Some health problems brought her life into sharper focus. “I can do it later” no longer seemed like good policy. A friend recommended BRIC as a good fit, and she came onboard as a consultant. A year later, BRIC’s board installed her as its executive director.

June 26 is her last day at the head of an organization she has helped make the jump into 21st-century warp drive, boosting its annual budget during her tenure from $3.7 million to nearly $16 million. Despite being sad to leave it all behind, she feels confident that the team mentality she has forged over the past 13 years will serve BRIC well in the future.

For her part, Schultz feels life pulling her toward something new.

“I just turned 60 and I wanted one more big adventure,” she said. “I figured now is the time to do it.”

 

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