Marxists can’t make the rent; Make move east to Brooklyn
- Liz Mestres, Brecht Forum’s outgoing executive director, working in her office at 451 West St. under the watchful gaze of Karl Marx.
BY GERARD FLYNN | Paying $8,000 a month for 5,500 square feet worth of space facing a lonesome stretch of the West Side Highway may seem reasonable to those in luxury lofts towering nearby.
But to the Brecht Forum, a nonprofit organization fighting for “social justice equality and a new culture that puts human needs first,” there comes a time when it’s sink or swim, and after nine years at their current location, at 451 West St., it must leave.
Finding itself priced out for the sixth time, the cultural center named in honor of German Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht, is moving to a new home — a much smaller office in The Commons building, a nonprofit where workspace rent is low.
The new location is at 388 Atlantic Ave. in central Brooklyn, two blocks from the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway stop.
For the first time since its beginning in 1975 in the West Village, the Brecht Forum will not be based in Manhattan, said Liz Mestres, its executive director, on a Monday afternoon. The afternoon light swept in from behind the New Jersey coastline, revealing an eerily quiet auditorium that has featured some of the best in alternative dance performances and riveting debates. Mestres will be stepping down next month from the position, which she has held since 1996.
Taking a break from moving stuff, she said the 2008 economic slump hit the group with a wallop, from which it hasn’t fully recovered, even in this “jobless recovery,” as she wrly put it.
Relying primarily on grants and donations from private sources can be tricky, and as donors took a nosedive in the market the center felt the pinch. Not getting an important grant last year may have been the mortal blow.
Over the years, the Brecht Forum has featured some of the biggest names in left-wing politics, including Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, while pressing the case for leftist answers to the world’s timeless social and political problems.
Classes can also be thoughtful and explore some of our time’s most meaningful issues, such as the upcoming “Historical Materialist Encounter With the ‘New Materialisms’ of Post-structuralism & Post-modernism & the Biopolitical — a Continuation of the History of Materialism Project,” which will take place over eight weeks, beginning Oct. 12, at the forum’s new home.
While Mestres said she will miss the great space, she is “excited” about moving to Brooklyn, where they will rent space in the building, which is shared by other progressive movements and media outlets.
The move, Mestres said, hasn’t stymied interest in their programming schedule. They are just about booked up, and at the new venue they will continue their other routine of music and theater workshops.
The paid staff of three will drop to two, though The Brecht Forum can still rely on more than 100 volunteers.
On Friday there will be a moving-out party featuring Baoku and The Image Afro-beat Band, Jeremiah Hosea and Ras Moshe, starting at 7 p.m.
Steve Neil executive director of Westbeth Artists Housing, the nonprofit that “provides affordable housing and studios to artists and their families,” said he wished the Brecht Forum the best.
But as a nonprofit, he said, Westbeth has to make money. Brecht Forum had been falling behind on rent, which was generously set at more than 50 percent below the market rate. Since news of the move is only recent, Neil said he does not know who will occupy the space.