By Peter Stamelman
Special to Brooklyn Eagle
On the evening of April 4 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Alan Fishman, chairman of the BAM board for the past 14 years, and a key part of BAM’s leadership for three decades, was celebrated by friends and colleagues at the Alan Gala. Hosted by Katy Clark, BAM president, and Joseph V. Melillo, BAM executive producer, the evening included a silent art auction, a dinner on the stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House and performances by some of Fishman’s favorite artists, including Helga Davis, the Mark Morris Dance Group and Music Ensemble, and Rufus Wainwright, with special guests Isabella Rosellini and Fiona Shaw. The audience also was treated to video tributes to Alan by other artists who have performed at BAM — and by Fishman’s family.
Fishman’s contributions to BAM are incalculable: During his tenure as chairman of the board, BAM expanded both its artistic and community impact. In addition, BAM enlarged its choice of venues, adding BAM Fisher, and soon-to-be added BAM Strong and BAM Karen. During this fertile period, BAM was not the only Brooklyn institution that benefited from Fishman’s energy and talent. He is the founding chairman of the Brooklyn Community Foundation and former chair of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. He also promoted the growing Brooklyn Cultural District and is a trustee of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which he co-founded.
During the dinner, Gala Co-chairs Adam Max and Bill Campbell praised Fishman copiously. “We are here to give Alan an enormous group hug — whether he wants one or not,” deadpanned Campbell. Then, in a more serious vein, Campbell went on to cite all of the many contributions Fishman has made. He concluded by saying, “Alan is all about the positive and what can be imagined.” He also spoke of President Barack Obama awarding BAM the 2013 National Medal of Arts, and of Fishman and Clark’s tireless efforts in making that happen.
Clark spoke next. She began by saying, in reference to the huge dinner space, “We’ve never had so many people at one time on this stage.” She spoke about Fishman’s vision for BAM and the memorable advice he gave her when she first started: “Be brave, because you can’t break it. BAM’s been here since 1861 and we’re going to continue to make it the coolest place on the planet.”
After Fishman received a Citation of Merit from a representative of Mayor Bill de Blasio, declaring that “Tuesday, April 4 is officially Alan Fishman Day in the City of New York,” Borough President Eric Adams took the mic. Among his memorable remarks was that “[t]here are two types of people: those who live in Brooklyn and those who wish they could.” That got the biggest applause of the night. Adams also movingly spoke of how Fishman had transformed the neighborhood and how “the best moments are when we have our hands in the soil together.”
Finally, Fishman himself spoke after Wainwright’s performance. In his best Groucho fashion, he said, “I’m moved beyond words — but I do have a few.” He praised Katy Clark and her team, “not only her administrative team,” but “all the volunteers, the stagehands, the ushers.” Finally, in a nod to the pols and machers in attendance, he said, “A special thanks to all the political leaders who are here. New York City supports the arts like no other city on Earth. And artists, both local and from every corner of the globe, have made it clear how much they treasure, and need, BAM. Brooklyn’s renaissance is in no small measure attributable to BAM’s renaissance. Let’s commit to keeping both the borough and BAM vital and strong.”
A special night, indeed.