Art Renaissance to Strike Brooklyn, $22 Million Pouring In

By Shannon Liao, Epoch Times
September 15, 2014 Updated: September 16, 2014

NEW YORK—”You need art to stay whole as a person,” said 22-year-old Jai Raphael, a rapper who performed on Monday in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

“I feed my soul with art and Sigmund Freud,” rapped Raphael, “Keep calmness in my heart’s beat,” she continued with the rap she wrote herself.

Raphael, who hails from Brooklyn and the Virgin Islands, is also an artist for Girl Be Heard, a theater group for young women. “I paint, do poetry, I dance. Since I was a little kid, I did ballet,” she said. 

Art for Raphael is part of her heritage—her mother was a poet, and her godmother was Audre Lorde, the Caribbean-American civil rights activist and feminist.

So she found it natural to perform at Monday’s press conference in support of the capital funding that freshman council member Laurie Cumbo worked to secure. 

Twenty-two million dollars are heading into art projects in many parts of Brooklyn. 

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the Botanic Garden are each receiving $5 million, the Brooklyn Museum collects $4.4 million, and among the other recipients are MoCADA, 651 Arts, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

BAM plans to upgrade its cinemas with the money, while the Navy Yard wants to expand its services. The Brooklyn Museum will give children an educative slab of the land. 

Girl Be Heard is expecting up to around $70,000 in discretionary and direct funds, separate from the $22 million. 

“We need this. So how could I not support it?” said Raphael of the funding Councilwoman Cumbo helped procure. 

“Art is simply not being paid well enough,” she added, “The actors have just started getting paid and we put in work. I mean, I spend hours on songs, days…We spend months rehearsing and we don’t really get paid well.” 

Jai Raphael, a 22-year-old rapper/artist, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. (Shannon Liao/Epoch Times)
Jai Raphael, a 22-year-old rapper/artist from Girl Be Heard, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. (Shannon Liao/Epoch Times)


Art History

Cumbo said Monday that her career began at age 14, working the carousel and the fishing contest at Prospect Park, followed by a stint of jobs at museums. 

Owing her beginnings to the arts, she began her council member term intent on obtaining “a lion’s share of the budget” for her benefactors.

She welcomed her old boss to the podium, director of the Brooklyn Museum, Arnold Lehman, who seven days ago announced his plans to retire in 2015.

Lehman joked that with enough art funding, the world would see “a nation filled with Laurie Cumbos.” 

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams supported the budget allocation, saying that if troubled youth “were allowed to dance with a young woman as a partner in the ballroom, they would not ball their fist and strike them and abuse them as a human being.”

Trombones could replace guns, according to Adams. “The hidden secret of the abnormalities lies in the artistic culture. Artists just get it. They get it,” he added.