The Downtown Brooklyn arts and media nonprofit BRIC has laid off 16 employees, leading to programming cuts and prompting one executive to resign out of protest. A spokesperson confirmed to Hyperallergic that BRIC underwent a “business restructuring” in November in order to increase revenue flow, resulting in staff cuts as well as the elimination of its spring contemporary art exhibition.
“We took difficult but necessary steps to realign our programs, operations, and budget to ensure the organization can continue to better serve our communities,” James Michael Nichols, BRIC’s director of Marketing and Communications, said a statement, citing a post-pandemic response to “decreased philanthropic support” and a loss of revenue from television cable providers as audiences migrate to streaming services. The decision, Nichols said, was made to “support the overall health of the organization and chart a path toward shared success.”
However, affected community members who spoke to Hyperallergic expressed concerns that these staff cuts represent the rolling back of accessible media services, which have for decades provided Brooklyn residents with community-produced programming on public access channels through BRIC TV and BRIC Free Speech TV. Multiple sources said that 75% of the cuts targeted employees working in BRIC’s community media services. (BRIC declined to comment on this point “out of respect for the individuals impacted.”)
Originally an acronym for Brooklyn Information and Culture, BRIC was founded in 1979 as the “Fund for the Borough of Brooklyn” (also known as the “Fund”) and spearheaded Celebrate Brooklyn! — New York City’s longest-running free outdoor performing arts festival held annually at Prospect Park’s Lena Horne Bandshell. The “Fund” also ran the since-closed Rotunda Gallery, a local visual arts venue in Brooklyn Heights, and in 1988 took charge of the borough’s public access programming, Brooklyn Community Access Television (BCAT), which is funded by local cable companies and provides over 650 hours of community member-produced television to Brooklyn residents each week. These television studios are based at BRIC House, a repurposed theater located at 647 Fulton Street, which also hosts other programming spaces including a visual arts gallery, an artist studio, and a performing arts center.
Anthony Riddle, who served as the vice president of BRIC’s Community Media department for more than a decade, told Hyperallergic that he resigned two days after the staff cuts in protest. In a letter to BRIC President Wes Jackson, Riddle stated that he could not “be an accessory nor silent witness to the utterly abusive manner in which my colleagues across BRIC were fired en masse on November 15.”
“The action further degrades Brooklyn Community Media’s fully-funded ability to serve the community,” Riddle’s letter read. “BRIC no longer represents a culture I can serve with my whole heart.”
A subsequent open letter that Riddle sent to BRIC’s board of directors on November 22 also raises alarms over deficit spending and a reduction of media services, arguing that the community media department’s funding is restricted to public access use under BRIC’s agreement with local cable companies.
Following the November 15 layoffs, Riddle told Hyperallergic that the organization “immediately” rolled back “at least one day” of its public media services. But Nichols told Hyperallergic that programming pauses impacted “across almost every BRIC department.”
Desireé Rucker, a Brooklyn community producer who has relied on BRIC media services since 1998 to facilitate her public access television projects, told Hyperallergic that many of the BRIC staff who were laid off were seen as “essential” to the community producers.
“The mission of Public Access was to be grassroots: to be by the people, for the people,” Rucker said, explaining how BRIC’s programming “reflects what people feel that they’re not seeing on mainstream [television].” Rucker’s own show Culture Matters spotlights local emerging artists that she feels don’t get enough attention.
Riddle agreed with Rucker’s comments, pointing out BRIC’s Haitian programming, which reflects the makeup of the borough, home to one of the largest communities of Haitian people in the United States.
“Our fear is that we will somehow be pushed out because we don’t fit,” Rucker said.