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Barclays Center and the Arts: How To Fill An Arena

People reacted strongly to the new partnership between the Nets arena in Brooklyn and BAM two blocks away. But what will the other 197 events be?

When Paul McCartney played two concerts at Yankee Stadium last week, he paid sly homage to the venue’s regular tenants. “I hear this Derek Jeter guy has more hits than I do,” he told the cheering, laughing crowd.

Sir Paul has much experience playing in huge sports venues, of course, most famously in Queens—Shea Stadium and its replacement Citi Field. But will he play in Brooklyn, and pay homage to a Net?

“We hope so,” says Sean Saadeh. “Any large artist can play our arena.”

Saadeh’s title is vice president of programming for the Barclays Center of Brooklyn, an 18,000-seat arena that is scheduled to open in September 2012. It is Saadeh’s job to schedule anything at the Barclays Center that isn’t a professional basketball game.

“Anybody who will come to the arena is a fan in one way or another,” whether of sports or the arts, Saadeh said.

Saadeh was a fan while growing up near the San Diego Sports Arena; he attended sports events there, as well as a Billy Joel concert, and after college, he went to work there in his first job as an arena programmer. The Nets hired him in February of this year.

“The Nets will be the first major league team in Brooklyn since the Dodgers left,” he said. “And the Barclays Center is going to enhance the arts scene: It will bring more artists to the area.”

There was much attention three weeks ago when the Barclays Center announced that there would be a partnership with the Brooklyn Academy of Music to help put on some shows in the arena, which offers almost nine times the seating capacity of BAM's largest current theater.

"With the construction of the Barclays Center, there will be a remarkable array of arts and entertainment venues, ranging from 250 to 18,000 seats, within a two-block radius here in Fort Greene," said Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of BAM.

Hopkins promised “spectacular large scale, artistically-driven events that have never been seen in New York City”—shows “on a very large scale, large nouvelle cirque kind of work, big dance kind of things, music.”

Reactions were strong and numerous, some of them part of the debate over the larger Atlantic Yards project, of which the arena will be the first completed of 17 buildings planned.

“I’m really disappointed that BAM would associate itself with this corporate crony boondoggle,” one respondent wrote in a comments section.

“I love BAM and its programming, especially Next Wave,” another wrote in a different comments section. “If they apply the same eye to an arena show they use for Next Wave, I'm there. “

Other reactions:

“Dear BAM,
I love you but I will attend a program at Barclays only if I am dead and you carry my corpse in through the front doors.“

“…For my part, I would be happy to never go to MSG or the Meadowlands again.”

“Any time the arts has more of a venue that’s a wonderful thing,” Michael Galinsky, director of Battle for Brooklyn, a film chronicling the long fight against Atlantic Yards, told the New York Times. But “this is a much greater benefit to [Atlantic Yards developer Bruce] Ratner from this P.R. perspective than it is to BAM.”

Excited, appalled, or unsure what to think, these reactions missed (or under-emphasized) an essential detail, as did the coverage itself.

Beginning in 2013, BAM will be recommending just three events a year, according to Saadeh. But Saadeh says the arena is committed to presenting some 200 events every year. That leaves 197 more.

“There will be 41 home games,” Saadeh explains, talking about Nets games, “and three pre-season games.”  (He does not mention the possibility of play-off games, which, considering the team’s current standing, is probably the polite thing to do.) That leaves 153.

“We’re going to do 48 events with Feld Entertainment, including two weeks of Disney on Ice, and another two weeks of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus," Saadeh said. 

And the remaining 100 or so?

Professional boxing,
 professional tennis, college basketball and hockey, and concerts. The Moscow Circus reportedly has been booked. “We have a lot of interest from entertainers and promoters and producers," Saadeh says. "They’re all very excited.”

Saadeh promises to be more specific closer to the arena’s opening.

Joseph Melillo, as BAM’s executive producer, will be most responsible for selecting the handful of BAM-recommended productions.

Though Melillo provided few details, his background may offer a clue. "My life has been the pursuit of the art of theater,” he e-mailed me from Europe, where he is spending the summer. BAM head Harvey Lichtenstein hired Melillo in 1983 to produce the inaugural Next Wave Festival, which every year since has offered cutting-edge theater, dance, music, opera, performance art, and artist’s talks.

Melillo mentions work he is proudest of producing over the years: “The Gospel at Colonus,” a gospel version of a Sophocles tragedy; the opera “Nixon in China”; the Cloud Gate Dance Theater from Taiwan.

The latest accomplishment that he mentions is “providing [BAM's] board of directors with a vision” for a new venue to open in September 2012—not the Barclays Center of Brooklyn, but the Richard B. Fisher Building, a new BAM theater of fewer than 300 seats.

Norman Oder July 22, 2011 at 06:31 PM
"Excited, appalled, or unsure what to think, these reactions missed (or under-emphasized) an essential detail, as did the coverage itself. Beginning in 2013, BAM will be recommending just three events a year." That's an important observation, and let me take it further. The New York Times, by putting the "scoop" on the front page of its Arts section, vastly over-played an intriguing but small piece of news. Norman Oder Atlantic Yards Report
Furtgo July 23, 2011 at 12:17 PM
Gotta do something with the darn thing; don't want it to go bankrupt and go to ruin now.

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