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Brooklyn Developer to Give $80K in Grants to Local Artists

By Serena Dai | August 25, 2015 4:45pm
 Bushwick artist Jins paints a wall on Troutman Street. A developer and local resident have teamed up to start a fund that will offer $80,000 in grants for qualifying local artists.
Bushwick artist Jins paints a wall on Troutman Street. A developer and local resident have teamed up to start a fund that will offer $80,000 in grants for qualifying local artists.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

BUSHWICK — A North Brooklyn developer is looking to combat the artists-vs.-gentrification fight by letting his cash do the talking.

Developer Slate Property Group has teamed up with local Kweighbaye Kotee, founder of the Bushwick Film Festival, to create the Slate Property Arts and Culture Endowment, a new organization that will dole out $80,000 in grants to artists and community members this year.

Kotee pitched the concept to Slate after considering practical projects to help mitigate gentrification issues in North Brooklyn neighborhoods, she said.

Slate, which had been thinking about ways to improve developer-community relations, started brainstorming with Kotee to create the fund, said company principal David Schwartz.

The real estate industry is often attracted to neighborhoods that artists help create, historically causing tension between developers and artists, Schwartz said.

But the relationship shouldn't have to be that way, he said, and the fund is their way of trying to help.

"We don't want to push artists out of communities," Schwartz said. "If we're going to a community we like because of artists, [pushing them out is] silly. We're ruining the very reason we went there. ...Thinking outside the box is important right now."

The fund will support both cultural events and art projects from people and organizations located within the neighborhoods where Slate Property Group develops, including Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick, Crown Heights and Fort Greene, Kotee said.

It will begin accepting applications for proposals next month, Kotee said.

Projects must be able to be completed within six months of acceptance, with the hope that finished works will entice other developers to contribute to the fund, she said. More details on the guidelines will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Submissions will not be limited to visual-art projects and can include film, video, performance art and even cultural events, Kotee said. If a church wanted to host a block party celebrating heritage, that would be considered.

Kotee said that during her outreach, some community members appeared wary of the project. They had suspicions the fund is a public-relations ploy for the developer and questions about why the money couldn't go toward affordable housing came up.

She always responds that this is a realistic project that can start conversations.

"I always comment, 'I can't force anyone to decide how to spend their money,'" she said. "All I can do is come up with creative ideas that they will hopefully accept. That's what I did."

Schwartz acknowledged that not all developers would be up for a community project like this. He said many would be interested, but they just don't know how to begin the process, he said.

The hope is that the fund will provide an opportunity for real estate industry professionals in gentrifying neighborhoods to give back, he said.

"Look, we're investing in this neighborhood," Schwartz said. "Let's invest in artists, let's invest in the people currently living here. Let's invest in ways to make it more harmonious than it's been."