"Why Don't We Connect Them Through Art?" A Quick Look at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Campus Redesign

If you've ever visited or attended an urban campus, it's easy to get confused. University buildings commonly intermingle with non-university buildings. And university buildings may look like non-university buildings. Take a wrong turn, and suddenly you're in a completely different neighborhood (or so it may seem). 

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this isn't a huge deal. But it does yield some aesthetic concerns. After all, it's hard to cultivate an encompassing and unifying university experience if everything is spread out and disorganized. And when compared to, say, a more rural or suburban campus safely encircled by a fence or well-defined boundaries, the college experience can seem, well, less homey, less welcoming.

It isn't a problem we've come across all too frequently, but it's been on the minds of the decision-makers at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

As the New York Times notes, the buildings on the academy's quasi-campus "can appear to be separate, individual structures." Aware of the aesthetic challenge, the academy has decided to unify the campus. But instead of moving buildings and digging up city streets, it's doing what any good music academy would do: Unifying its campus with art.

The $3.5 million BAM Robert W. Wilson Public Art Initiative will define and connect four sites on BAM’s campus: the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Lafayette Avenue, beneath the vertical BAM sign; the BAM Harvey Theater site on Fulton Street; the rear wall of the Howard Gilman Opera House facing the BAM Fisher building on Ashland Place; and the arched facade windows of the Peter Jay Sharp Building. 

"It will really pull all the BAM buildings together by defining them through these iconic pieces," said Karen Brooks Hopkins, BAM’s president. "How do you connect the four buildings? We’ve been thinking about this. Why don’t we try to connect them through art?"

Artists for the commission of three long-term, site-specific works will be nominated by an advisory committee composed of cultural partners and curators.

Universities and arts organizations that find themselves physically spread out across large spaces should take note. The subtle brilliance behind BAM's effort, which serves the dual purpose of using art as a unifying device while simultaneously engaging the public through a commission process, can be replicated elsewhere (the $3.5 million notwithstanding).

In the meantime, click here check out IP's analysis on the Robert Wilson Charitable Trust's philanthropic work in New York City.