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The Role of Arts Organizations in Anchoring Community Economic Development

Karen Brooks Hopkins

In her recently published book, “BAM...and Then It Hit Me,” Karen Brooks Hopkins, President Emerita of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), looks back on her 36-year trajectory with the BAM - America’s oldest performing arts center.

In a talk on April 13, 2022, co-hosted by the Yale School of Management and the David Geffen School of Drama, Hopkins used her memoir as a launching pad to invite students, faculty, and guests to examine the role of arts organizations in anchoring community economic development.

Hopkins’s talk was based on the working definitions of two terms: anchor institutions as “enduring organizations that remain in their geographic places, and play a vital role in their local communities and economies” and an anchor mission as “aligning core institutional purpose with community values and place-based, economic, human and intellectual resources to better the welfare of the community in which the anchor resides.”

Hopkins shared examples of arts organizations that have boosted economic activity, revitalized neighborhoods, combatted cultural displacement, and integrated urban planning with cultural heritage. The case studies she cited were from all over the globe – from the USA to England to China – and exemplified how arts institutions can revitalize and energize the communities they engage with. Hopkins illustrated how arts organizations can move beyond conceiving of themselves as single discipline organizations (such as a theater or museum) and instead see themselves as unique contributors to a broader cultural landscape incorporating street life, arts festivals, as well as residential and commercial development.

Exploring Brooklyn more deeply, Hopkins emphasized the importance of collaborations among arts organizations. With BAM as the largest of the nine core institutions in its cultural district, Brooklyn’s cultural organizations worked together so that small and large organizations could partner for multiple years, with each contributing its unique resources to reduce costs and to provide audiences with a richer experience, transforming the neighborhood “from desolation to destination.”

Hopkins closed her talk by calling upon leaders of arts organizations to serve as front-line change agents. Embedded in their neighborhoods, anchor institutions should embrace the community in which they’re located. Real estate developers and local businesses should be recruited to join boards or give back to the community by other means. Events should be built in a way that local artists, businesses, and energy are brought together in the pursuit of an anchor mission. Responding to questions from the audience, Hopkins underlined the importance of “making a case in an economic way” of the role of arts organizations. Hopkins reminded the audience of how green investing had gradually found its way into the mainstream and shared her belief that investing in a creative economy would be the next wave.