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Brooklyn Museum Ends 'Target First Saturdays' Dance Party

By Sonja Sharp | October 5, 2012 8:18am

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The party's over.

For years, the Brooklyn Museum's free Target First Saturdays event ranked among the city's premiere people-watching destinations, drawing an eclectic crowd of parents and partiers, hipsters and Hasidim, longtime residents and enthusiastic newcomers.

But many are fretting that the more than a decade old event will come to an end, after the museum announced it will suspend its ultra-popular dance party beginning this weekend.

Museum staff said the decision came in response to complaints about foot traffic, after nearly a year of perpetually record-breaking crowds of as many as 20,000 people. But many regulars see it as the end of an era, and a body blow to the event's inclusive spirit.

"The only thing everyone can enjoy is the dance party," said Stephanie Morgan, 30, who said she and her friends have attended First Saturdays religiously for years. "Without it, I don’t need to go to the museum every month. It’s a waste of time."

City Councilman Jumaane Williams said he, too, was baffled by the museum's decision to kill the party.

"I’ve been going to those since I was in college — they’re great events, and there’s a great mix of people," said Williams, whose district coveres nearby Flatbush and East Flatbush. "I hope they reconsider. I think it's a great Brooklyn event."

Unlike much of the rest of the museum's popular Saturday programs, the dance didn't require tickets, allowing toddlers and senior citizens to jam cheek-by-jowl at the event.

"It's a really mixed crowd," Morgan said. "Some places only cater to a certain crowd, but we’re a mixed group, so we felt really comfortable there."

She and others took to the museum's website to voice their concern this week, after Elisabeth Callihan, the museum's manager of adult public programs, announced the suspension Monday. Some echoed Morgan, saying the DJs and dancing were the event's main draw. Others accused the museum of pandering to gentrifiers.

"As debt-fueled gentrification makes further inroads into Brooklyn goes something as fundamental to communities of color as music and dance — the kind that is NOT cultivated in liberal arts schools — the inextinguishable debt for which is now punishing a good proportion of graduates, even more so in the arts," one commenter wrote.

"Replacing the Beaux-Arts (or the Summer parking lot) dance events with more vicarious entertainment makes as much sense as dismissing this huge draw and revenue stream for the Museum."

But still others applauded the decision. 

"I say good riddance to the dance party," wrote commenter John Kwok."There can still be excellent, revenue-driven, cultural events at the Brooklyn Museum which tap into the many talented dancers, musicians, writers and artists who live in the adjoining neighborhoods."

Callihan said the museum struggled for months before ultimately deciding to halt the parties through this winter.

"We tried rescheduling it, changing the hours, moving the location, scheduling other activities at the same time so we could provide choices, but nothing really seemed to work," she said.

"We had this conversation: Is the dance party the heart of First Saturdays? Basically what we decided is that people come to the dance party to socialize and express themselves, so if we could somehow still address those two outlets, then maybe we’ve still got something."

The Beaux-Arts Court, where the party is normally held, will be transformed into a lounge space with a rotating lineup of activities, including dance classes, an interactive mural and a photo booth.

"If we’re still having the same problems, then pulling the dance party didn’t matter," Callihan said. "It’s just our way of being proactive."

As for Morgan, she'll head elsewhere.

"They’re trying to shift the crowd from this young-adult party crowd to more of a family crowd," she said. "My friends aren't interested. People are saying, what else can we do?"