By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Heart of Brooklyn, a consortium of six leading cultural institutions near Grand Army Plaza – Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Museum Brooklyn Public Library, Prospect Park Alliance and Prospect Park Children’s Zoo – now has a new director.
Liz Harris, who was selected by the organization’s board of director, has a background in both finance and arts. She most recently served as executive vice president at Boston’s UNC Partners, Inc., which invested venture capital funds with a focus on entrepreneurs of color, and as principal of Harris Associates, a management consulting firm specializing in arts management, strategic planning and more.
Harris, speaking to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, added, “I owned and operated a gallery in Boston [the Liz Harris Gallery] that specialized in African antiquities and contemporary African-American artists. I’m a collector myself, and continue to sell to private clients.”
Since it was founded in 2001, Heart of Brooklyn has worked to tap into the renaissance of Brooklyn for the benefit of local residents and businesses through cross-marketing and tourism efforts.
The fact that the borough has so many important cultural institutions in the same vicinity, said Harris, “really has to do with the fact that Brooklyn was an independent city at the time. It’s so fortunate that we have such great institutions.”
As an example of one of Heart of Brooklyn’s successful projects, she cited BCAP (the Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program), a youth education program.
“It began as a two-week summer camp program for children ages 7 to 12, introducing the children to the various cultural institutions,” she said. “We’re now running three of these programs during the summer, and an after-school program as well. It’s very successful, and in 2010 we got an award from Michele Obama.”
Another project of Heart of Brooklyn, she says, has been to aid the development of the Washington Avenue Merchants Association in Prospect Heights, one of the communities near the consortium’s institutions. “We’ve been working with the business community to attract new businesses and identify unmet retail needs and opportunities that exist in their neighborhood.”
As part of this effort, Heart of Brooklyn has organized “Wash Ave Rocks!,” an annual festival of live music, events and vendors along the avenue.
All in all, says Harris, “Brooklyn seems to me to be one of the more exciting places in the country to integrate economic and cultural growth. I’m very exciting to working with this team of excellent folks [at Heart of Brooklyn]. It’s a small team, but the members are completely committed.”
Commenting on the selection of Harris as director, Borough President Marty Markowitz said, “Liz Harris has more than 30 years of corporate and nonprofit experience, with expertise in working with diverse cultural partners and institutions — qualities that will serve her well in our diverse borough.”
Interestingly, the Heart of Brooklyn is not completely a new concept. In the 19th century, the Brooklyn Museum as originally a project of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. Not only the museum but the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum remained division of the Institute until they became independent entities in the 1970s.