By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Having devoted 35 years to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), President Karen Brooks Hopkins on Wednesday announced her plan to step down in June 2015.
“Those who know me know that I often speak of our collective work at BAM as a crusade,” says Hopkins. “Having been on the front lines for over three decades, I can say I have never been more proud of BAM’s success, both globally and right here in Brooklyn.”
Sandy Sawotka, BAM’s director of publicity, said Hopkins plans to spent more time with family and friends, and may continue her involvement with BAM in the future. A search committee is being formed to fill her position.
Hopkins and Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo jointly took over the leadership of BAM from former BAM President and Executive Producer Harvey Lichtenstein in 1999. “Karen has been my professional partner for the last 14 years, and my trusted colleague here at BAM since 1983,” says Melillo.
Hopkins started working at BAM in 1979. As president, she oversees the its 233 full-time employees and its facilities, including the 2,100-seat Howard Gilman Opera House (within the main Peter Jay Sharp Building) and 834-seat BAM Harvey Theater, the BAM Rose Cinemas, the BAMcafé, and the BAM Fisher Building.
Alan Fishman, chairman of BAM, told the Eagle, “Karen is a unique person. She combines so many qualities that come together in her devotion to BAM and her ability to grow an institution like BAM. She took BAM from a place that had emerged from the dark with Harvey [Lichtenstein] and had become an important place, and under her regime it grew into the BAM we know today, which is a place alongside all the great cultural institutions in the world.
“Harvey started it, and Karen carried it forward. She combines the best of Brooklyn and the best of the cultural world, all in one package.”Borough President Eric Adams commented, “BAM has led the way in cementing Brooklyn’s status as an arts destination, and this is in no small part due to the visionary leadership of President Karen Brooks Hopkins. BAM is the anchor of our Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District and, for the past 15 years, President Hopkins has been the anchor of BAM, expanding its physical footprint as well as its cultural legacy.”
Carlo A. Scissura, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said, “In her 35 years at BAM, Karen transformed the institution from one building to an entire cultural district. Since taking over as president in 1999, Karen helped put the Brooklyn cultural scene on the map and made the borough cool. I am proud to call her a friend and someone I have worked closely with over the years for the improvement of Brooklyn.”
Arnold Lehman, president of the Brooklyn Museum, also praised Hopkins, saying the two of them had worked together very closely. At different times, both served as the chair of the Cultural Institutions Group, a consortium of 33 prominent New York City cultural organizations.
Ella Weiss, president of the Brooklyn Arts Council, said, “Karen’s contributions to Brooklyn’s arts community are truly invaluable. I especially applaud her unyielding commitment to making downtown Brooklyn a vibrant cultural destination through her legendary tenure at BAM.”
Among her accomplishments were:
• Expanding and renovating BAM’s campus and facilities to include the BAM Fisher Building (a former Salvation Army building on Ashland Place);
• The renovation of the facade of the Peter Jay Sharp Building (BAM’s main building, opened in 1908 and familiar to generations of Brooklynites);
• The renovation of the BAM Harvey Theater seating and entrances;
• The addition of community bike parking lots;
• The launching of the BAM Endowment with Lichtenstein in 1992, which grew to $90 million by 2013;
• Initiating, with Lichtenstein, a respected cinema multiplex;
• Expanding BAM’s children’s and family programs and workshops;
• Partnering with other major arts institutions such as the American Ballet Theatre, Barclays Center, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and others, and;
• Increasing the number of community outreach activities, such as free film showings for seniors, post-show receptions for community leaders and a large annual Halloween celebration.
Hopkins also encouraged BAM to take stock of its own past, beginning in the late 1990s. The institution hired two-part time archivists, and eventually it produced its own history: “BAM: The Complete Works,” containing close to 400 photographs and essays by 31 writers.
In addition to her work at BAM, Hopkins was named to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s transition committee in November 2013. She also served as a member of the Mayor’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission and is currently a member of the boards of NYC & Company, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the Global Cultural Districts Network.
In 2005, Hopkins received the Encore Award in Arts Management Excellence from the Arts & Business Council of New York, and chaired the Hospitality and Tourism cluster of the Initiative for a Competitive Brooklyn.
In 2006, she was elected by the state Legislature to the Board of Regents for a term that expired in 2010. She has received numerous awards, and is the author of “Successful Fundraising for Arts & Cultural Institutions.”
A graduate of the University of Maryland and George Washington University, she lives in Park Slope.