The borough of Brooklyn has long been a backdrop for the arts to flourish, as well as a haven for artists of all ages. Need proof? Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX) gives students and artists of all backgrounds and abilities the chance to create amazing art and learn from one another. This year BAX will celebrate its 26th anniversary and will be offering a wide array of activities and classes to all visitors.
“BAX is a performing arts venue serving as an incubator space for professional artists, and we’re also an educational venue providing a wide range of arts education services to children ages 1-18,” says BAX’s education director Lucia Scheckner, who has been with the organization since 2013. “We have this sort of mantra of supporting artists in progress and the idea that one is always in progress even as they go from being a 17-year-old developing their first choreography to being a professional artist reflecting on their practice.”
BAX offers studio classes (which then progress into workshops) in dance, theatre, and tumbling for all age groups. The workshops allow students an extended period of time to cultivate their ideas, develop their own material and work together to create a finished production. “[Students are] literally conceiving, composing, choreographing, and directing each other’s work,” Scheckner says. “BAX then dedicates a weekend in our theatre for their performances, and they get to have the full experience of a production with a technical rehearsal, program and costumes.”
Additionally, BAX showcases students’ hard work throughout the year to the community through two annual festivals. During their winter festival, Youthworks, students ages 8-18 are invited to bring their original ideas to the stage through a six-week rehearsal process, during which they receive coaching and instruction from visiting artists. Later in the spring, BAX holds a teen arts festival, which brings in teen performers from around the city to spend a day filled with workshops and discussions from working professionals.
The program also has classes for the littlest aspiring artists—this includes classes tailor-made for children who may be experiencing their first drop-off experience, as well as fun Creative Movement classes that youngsters can participate in with a parent or caregiver. For extra busy parents, BAX even offers afterschool pickups. “We will go to schools and pick up kids to bring here, which I think is a huge service for families who can’t stop their day at 2:30pm for a program that starts at 3:30pm and then sit and wait,” Scheckner notes.
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Offering afterschool pickups is only one of the many ways that BAX has connected and responded to community needs. As long-term residents of the Gowanus and Park Slope neighborhoods, BAX has made a commitment to becoming an accessible and cultural hub for everyone. “We have an emphasis on creative expression and thinking about how creative thinking and taking risks in making art and cultivating an original voice is a part of that experience of celebrating difference and ensuring representation of lots of different voices,” Scheckner says.
Inclusivity and representation are qualities that BAX prides itself on and strives to provide to all of its students and artists. “Part of the mission is to engage diverse constituents in dialogue,” Scheckner says. “BAX is committed to being an anti-racist organization and we consider that in our teaching practices… While we are providing these expert technical skills in performing arts disciplines we are very much also cultivating the whole human being, and thinking about the social and emotional skills that are being developed.”
One of the ways that BAX helps to expose students to other cultures and styles is by encouraging students and professional artists to work alongside one another. “I think it sets the tone immediately upon arrival that this is a creative incubator-type home for all people, and just as there is this vibe of support for the professional artists and a real space for them to be in the creative process, students immediately feel a sense of being taken seriously and being heard, honored, and supported,” Scheckner says.
Over time, BAX has expanded their reach to over 1,500 students in public schools within Brooklyn by providing residency programs in theatre, dance, and music. Working with partners such as the Brooklyn New School and the Carroll School, BAX helps students learn about topics from Poetry to making connections between the arts and current social studies topics. BAX also offers afterschool programs in hip-hop and creative movement.
Looking to the future, Brooklyn Arts Exchange hopes to increase their reach and accessibility within the community to provide classes and programs based on local families needs. “Finding genuine ways that we can support our community and continue to grow is extremely important to us,” Scheckner explains. “We have a deep commitment to accessibility and we provide financial assistance to anyone who needs it, so no family in the history of our inception has ever been turned away based on financial limitations.”
Ultimately, BAX serves not only as a wonderful teaching hub for students interested in the arts, but also as a community center where students and artists are encouraged to embrace their creativity. “We have some really incredible artists who are exploring projects in their own professional practice and bringing that energy and insights into the curriculum here at BAX,” Scheckner says. “In tandem with our core values, it makes for really immediate often very socially aware and talented learning with interesting work.”
Fall classes at Brooklyn Arts Exchange are now open for registration with an early bird 5 percent discount offered to those who register before August 18.