During its 25 years of existence, the museum has received more than 1.5 million visitors for live performances by various artists.
Yaya Bey’s memories of her frequent visits to the Brooklyn Museum are very vivid. It’s the jubilation on the children’s faces as she leads tours of exhibits like the Jean-Michel Basquiat skull, and especially on Brooklyn Museum 1st Saturdays, when every floor was buzzing with art, dance, and music by a ragtag group of artists.
“Because it’s free, it opens up space for people who might not otherwise be able to enter certain areas of the gallery,” said Bey, a musician who joined this cultural melting pot on Saturday as the museum kicked off its 25th anniversary. Brooklyn Museum 1st Saturdays Year is a free evening event held on the first weekend of most months.
In honor of Black History Month, the February event was themed “Heritage”, defining the impact of black artists on the Brooklyn area through live performances, poetry readings, curated art talks, film screenings and a marketplace with dozens of artisans and afro girl art.
Lauren Argentina Celaya, director of community programs at the Brooklyn Museum, called “ Brooklyn Museum 1st Saturdays a love letter to Brooklyn.” She said these events have enhanced the area’s creative excellence and have welcomed some 1.5 million visitors over the past 25 years.
However, some museum staff and activists have expressed disappointment with the institution’s progress in improving diversity. In 2018, opposition arose. The museum then hired a white man as a curator-consultant on African art. Last March, the museum hired a new curator, a black woman. And in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, former and current employees wrote an open letter highlighting the “harm and daily mistreatment” they say employees of color face. Employees said they hoped it would inspire “courageous conversation” about discrimination.
About 55 percent of Brooklyn Museum employees identify as people of color, Keonna Hendrick, its director of diversity, equality, inclusiveness, and access, said in a statement, adding that the museum has increased fairness and inclusiveness through efforts such as cultural competence workshops and pay transparency.
Works showcased at this month’s Brooklyn Museum 1st Saturdays event included Mother’s Rite, a ballet created by choreographer Jeremy McQueen’s Black Iris project that explores the stages of a mother’s grief following the loss of her son to police brutality. The play was informed by black mothers who experienced a similar loss.
Delmar Brown, a Flatbush native and DJ, made his first appearance at First Saturdays this month since 2006. He played a set from the “encyclopedia of the disco era”, as well as classics of house, funk and soul.
Jelani Akil Bauman, a Louisiana trumpeter, took summer walks to the Brooklyn Museum while living in Bedford-Stuyvesant at the age of 20. He called the Brooklyn Museum 1st Saturdays a community paradise for the district.