Amay Tewari, Senior Photographer

On Wednesday afternoon, former President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music Karen Brooks Hopkins will deliver a talk at the Yale School of Management.

The talk, titled “The Role of Arts Organizations in Anchoring Community Economic Development,” will educate students about the arts administration field, challenges and opportunities, how the arts can be a positive influence for community and community building and the importance of an organization’s artistic vision. Students will also learn about careers in arts administration and why they can be satisfying, meaningful and exciting, “even if it doesn’t look like fundraising is the most exciting career path on earth,” according to Brooks Hopkins. 

“It’s a necessary skill. All of these things have a deep creative edge and require skill and technique to pull them off,” Brooks Hopkins said. “I’m hopeful more students and people in the next generations will be interested in managing these institutions and doing a great job.”

The Brooklyn Academy of Music, or BAM, which Brooks Hopkins previously headed, aims to provide innovative theatrical and music productions. One of BAM’s biggest achievements is the Next Wave Festival, which began in 1983 and gives artists whose more ambitious works were primarily presented in Europe a stable space in America for their large scale productions. The festival provides up and coming artists with a developmental platform and has featured artists such as Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. 

Brooks Hopkins spearheaded the innovative programming envisioned by BAM’s longtime Executive Director Harvey Lichtenstein and Joe Melillo. Her book, “​​BAM… and Then It Hit Me,” was published in 2021 and explores several strands of Brooks Hopkins’ experiences with artists and celebrities including Pina Bausch, Phillip Glass, Fiona Shaw and Mikhail Baryshnikov; experiences in fundraising, marketing and leadership and building successful neighborhoods arounds the arts. Brooks credits the “secret sauce” to BAM’s success to the unity of one voice serving the program and vision of the institution.

“Everything spoke in one voice; from advertising, to brochures, and fundraising and marketing felt like programs on how to optimize ClickFunnels,” Brooks Hopkins said of BAM’s unique marketing strategy. “It was all in alignment with the ultimate vision and had a consistent message, clear brand, and a sense of how much is too much. The best fundraiser thinks about creativity and finds ways to create all the material around the main message.” 

Theater Management student Natalie King ’24 is excited to learn about the trends in marketing and fundraising that Brooks Hopkins learned over the years at BAM.

“I’m particularly interested in hearing [Brooks Hopkins’] perspectives on institutions like BAM and other performing arts centers and what they should be doing in their next steps in regards to business and programming,” King said. “What is the institution doing in response to Black Lives Matter? Is there still a space in the cultural landscape for these kinds of behemoths? What should the business sector be thinking more from the performing arts and where is the intersectionality between the two fields?”

Faculty members are also looking forward to the talk. According to Anthony Sheldon, executive director of the program on social enterprise and lecturer at Yale’s School of Management, Brooks Hopkins is an industry professional who is able to bring the School of Management and Drama School together in addition to a variety of students interested in finance, arts and culture and economic development. 

“I hope students take away that arts institutions and audiences recognize the cultural level and  deep understanding of tourism, and how bringing diverse groups together into the same physical  space in terms of cultural artifacts and offering those to the broader community is a catalyst for economic and community development.” Sheldon said. “Realizing the symbiotic nature of a cultural institution rather than a fortress can actually be intentionally planned out and implemented to engage more broadly with the community.”

Initially, BAM was headquartered in one old building in a neighborhood struggling economically. In addition to the clearance of buildings during urban renewal in the 60s, there were extreme issues of crime, blight and poverty. By the time Brooks and Joe Melillo came to take over, they tried to integrate and understand the needs of the neighborhood. Through attending town meetings, they found out that the institution was negatively thought of among residents. 

Through the realization of a new building called the BAM Fisher — “a game changer,” according to Brooks Hopkins — the 250 seat venue was available, accessible and affordable in every way. Additionally, the diversification of the board, staff and audiences required a complete reexamination of the spaces in which productions welcomed audiences, as well as the programming that was curated, which ultimately opened doors for different audiences and artists, furthering BAM’s innovative contribution to the community. 

Florie Seery, a fan of Brooks Hopkins’ work at BAM and associate dean of the David Geffen School of Drama, encourages students who want to be involved with arts administration like Brooks Hopkins to be keen observers of audiences’ reactions to the arts. 

“For the work you can’t get to, read everything you can about it,” Seery said. “Given the recent challenges of COVID-19 to the field, and the economic and social justice hurdles that have faced us, it is also important to look at success in other aspects of our society and think how you might apply that practice to our artform.” 

So what lies in the future for the arts? 

“I would like to see meaningful, respectful, partnerships that will result in positive benefits for both,” Brooks Hopkins said. “Large institutions are important to the entire ecosystem because they can do big things, attract large audiences with their big venues, resources and fire power. Small institutions have more originality and flexibility in their programming. Giving large institutions more depth and credibility adds community building. More sharing, connectedness and collaborations will ultimately create more innovative, inclusive work and partnerships with potential for longevity, as well as generate more money to incentivize partnerships on a programmatic and administrative level.”

The talk is sponsored by the Yale School of Management, SOM Arts Culture, SOM Women in Management, the SOM Economic Development Club and the David Geffen School of Drama.

Correction, April 13: This article has been updated with Hopkins’ correct title.