The seventh season of BRIC‘s Stoop Series started last Tuesday with an appearance by Nadia Lopez, the founder and principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a public middle school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Lopez became a viral sensation in 2010, shortly after Brandon Stanton featured one of her students on his “Humans of New York,” blog. The student credited Lopez as one of his main motivations for staying in school.
The post drew attention to Mott Hall and to Lopez’s unconventional management methods, which eventually earned her a book contract with Penguin Publishing and a visit to the White House last February. On Tuesday evening, Lopez, the author of Building Bridges, talked about all of this and more in an interview with CNN contributor, Michaela Angela Davis.
Attendees listened to Lopez and Davis from their perch on the stairs of the “stoop,” a gathering space inside the BRIC facilities at 647 Fulton Street. It opened three years ago and since then has been the base for free, Brooklyn-based cultural exhibition. It’s a moderately-sized gallery space with open windows, a café and bar and comfy pillows for attendees to sit on.
Emily Harney, a director at BRIC, explained that the space was designed to feel similar to a home. “We like to think of it as Brooklyn’s cultural living room,” she said.
It’s a living room that functions a lot like a cultural laboratory. Every Stoop Series line-up is different with various artists and BRIC staffers collaborating pitching in. The result is a calendar of events featuring wildly diverse content. “It’s very experimental,” Harney said.
In the past, attendees have heard Haitian banjo music, listened to a barber tell stories while cutting hair live, and gathered to sketch dancers during the annual “Dance and Draw” session. This year, attendees can take their pick from a long list of shows on everything, from micro brewing, to a jazz harp performance, and a session on “racial and ethnic diversity and the Jewish experience.”
Some Stoop Series events are more of a success than others, at least in terms of attendance. An event last year called “Black Women in Media,” had to move to the theater because attendee numbers outpaced the space. Other events barely filled a tenth of the room. But maybe that’s part of the charm. “It’s really designed to be fun,” Harney said. “It’s supposed to bring people in a space where they do something together.”
There are limitations. For example, artists may find the space too uncontrolled — audience members can walk in and out at any given time, order drinks from the bar or talk to friends. Dancers have to keep in mind the concrete ground when leaping and jumping. And there’s always the challenge of appealing to an audience base in a neighborhood as diverse as Brooklyn.
“We are very cognizant of the fact that we are in a rapidly changing neighborhood where longtime residents no longer feel welcome and newcomers are not sure where they belong,” Harney said. She added that a big purpose of the space is to encourage people with “different perspectives, cultural backgrounds, and ages to come together.”
BRIC’s Stoop Series are every Tuesday. The next meeting in the series, “Local, Connected, and Creative: New Approaches to Community Building,” will be on Tuesday, September 27, at 7:00pm.