By Fern Gillespie
For 45 years, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! has reigned as the only free summer-long outdoor concert and performance series in New York City. This global cultural celebration continues from the stage of the Lena Horne Bandshell at Prospect Park through August 24.
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! is actually a fraction of the arts and media impact of BRIC. This leading, multi-disciplinary arts, and media institution, anchored in downtown Brooklyn, has a mission to support the creative works of artists, media-makers, and community residents who reflect the diversity of New York City. BRIC House is a 40,000-square-foot arts-and-media complex for BRIC’s year-round live performances, visual arts exhibitions, media making, and education programs. It’s the site of the New York Emmy Award-winning state-of-the-art BRIC studio, which produces leading TV news and public affairs. Some of BRIC’s program initiatives include residencies to playwrights, choreographers, composers, and visual artists; commissions for Brooklyn filmmakers and TV producers; Stoop Series public conversations; arts and media education programs for NYC public schools; and media training for community groups. Over 100,000 visitors attend BRIC’s art, performance, film, and TV events each year.
In 2022, Wes Jackson was appointed President of BRIC. He has over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, innovator, and creative executive in entertainment and academia. Jackson began his career producing concerts for Nas, The Roots, The Dave Matthews Band, The Fugees, and A Tribe Called Quest. His company Seven Heads helped launch the careers of Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Talib Kweli, El-P (Run The Jewels), Common, and others. Music from Seven Heads Roster was included in HBO’s “The Wire,” “The Boondocks,” and the film “Brown Sugar.” For 15 years, he was the founder and lead of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. Jackson is a Trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library and was recently Director of the Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) Program at Emerson College.
Our Time Press: What makes BRIC unique as a Brooklyn cultural institution?
Wes Jackson: BRIC has been a multidisciplinary arts and media organization before it was cool. We offer free and low-cost media classes and youth programming to schools across the borough and work to break down barriers to make media literacy more accessible. We also have a gallery space where we showcase contemporary artists and a residency program where we incubate and support up-and-coming artists across various disciplines. We focus on social justice through our Town Halls series and Brooklyn Free Speech channels, and we uplift the voices of our Community Producers who create content in our studio spaces and rent our equipment for free. We partner with neighboring organizations and residents of NYCHA housing to create thoughtful programs that support the Brooklyn community.
You have a strong background in music industry and arts administration. What appealed to you about heading BRIC?
BRIC is uniquely positioned to support the Brooklyn community in an important way. Education and access are at the heart of what we do, and I truly believe providing the tools to empower our community members to be more active and meaningful citizens is the most important. That is what drew me to BRIC. Music is, of course, also a huge part of who we are, and of who I am. I’m excited to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop the BRIC way, with not only music programming, but through podcasts and town halls that address different aspects of the culture.
Why is it important for BRIC to train Brooklyn nonprofits and Brooklyn residents with low-cost communications media production workshops?
Digital literacy is hugely important. We want to provide residents with the skills to not only be consumers but producers. Mayor Eric Adams recently expanded broadband access in NYCHA Housing, and we’re working to align ourselves with that vision of creating a media literacy pipeline for all of Brooklyn and beyond. We want to inspire all Brooklyn residents to be creators.
Why do you think BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! has been an entertainment highlight of the NYC summer cultural scene?
It doesn’t hurt that the majority of our concerts are free! We also have a diverse lineup that includes artists to watch alongside more established household names. Our stage has hosted incredible talent over the years, which is thanks to our wonderful programming team that works tirelessly to book artists and produce the festival. For the first time this year, we have an artist curator: songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Taja Cheek, who worked on this year’s incredible lineup alongside the BRIC team. We are grateful for our partnership with the Prospect Park Alliance that allows us to continue to bring free programming to the park year after year.