Formal Opposition: Protesters Dress Down Brooklyn Museum Over Bruce Ratner Honor


Some cleverly dubbed it a “dung deal.” Others slyly suggested that “Ratner is a ‘con’ artist.” And still more dismissed it fundamentally as a “shame.”

Chants creative and classic poured from the crowd of protesters assembled behind NYPD barricades on Thursday evening outside the Brooklyn Museum. Inside, a $1000 per ticket gala headlined by Kanye West would soon honor Bruce Ratner, the controversial mega-developer behind the increasingly challenged Atlantic Yards project, for his patronage of the arts and commitment to public service and generosity.

However, much like the meaning of the Takashi Murakami artwork with Louis Vuitton boutique now installed at the Museum, the protesters led by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn argued that where Ratner is concerned, the concept of “honor” is debatable.

“He’s basically like the little boy or the monkey with his hand in the cookie jar trying to grab too many cookies,” said Michael D. White, dressed in a cape appropriate for the current John Adams zeitgeist. An attorney from Brooklyn Heights, in March he wrote a colossal letter to the Museum’s board that has come to define the collective outrage at the decision to present an award to Ratner.

Among other criticisms, the letter asks whether the choice to honor Ratner was driven by the connections of his group, Forest City Ratner Companies, to Museum board members, and it denounces the attempt to invoke eminent domain to clear inhabited private property for his project. Just this week, opponents filed a petition for the Supreme Court to hear their lawsuit against the use of eminent domain for Atlantic Yards, and a decision is expected in June.

“To me, you don’t take money from people who circumvent the will of the community,” explained Allison Kelley, a teacher who has lived across the street from the museum on Eastern Parkway for 17 years, and even performed there as a musician. “The whole Atlantic Yards project has nothing to do with what the community wants or the community needs,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll perform there again for quite a while.”

At its height, the spectacle outside the Museum drew nearly 100 protestors, some of whom dressed in fancy attire to mock the swanky sensibility of the event. They positioned themselves at the access road to the back parking lot, where a steady stream of SUVs, taxis and limousines ferried anonymous attendees past the sight. Far fewer ticket holders seemed to arrive via the 2/3 train that sits directly underneath the Museum.

Protesters also formed a cluster to the east near Washington Avenue, where they were barricaded within view of the glass entry pavilion to the Museum, There, they could actually peer into the event. Maybe it offered a rare moment of transparency in an Atlantic Yards process marked by obfuscation. Or perhaps it only magnified the marginalized feeling of faces being pressed against the glass.

Occasionally, the two worlds did interact politely.

One late arrival rushed toward the Museum with his gala date, but not before he stopped to ask what was happening. “Oh, the usual,” he replied when told about the protest. Asked whether he found the decision to honor Ratner unsettling, he offered, “I think the jury’s still out on Atlantic Yards. I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, two 20-somethings from Crown Heights mused about their motivation to stand on Eastern Parkway and observe. They said they had hoped to watch gala attendees communicate with protesters.

“None of these people who are honoring him are concerned about losing their apartments, or closing a small business, or the traffic,” said one. “I mean, hello, have they driven down Atlantic Avenue lately?”

“My whole issue is mediocrity,” ventured the other, a sports fan concerned that the $950 million, publicly financed Atlantic Yards arena would bring the Nets basketball team to Brooklyn.

“Do we need another mediocre team in this city?” she asked. “Why can’t we just work on fixing the ones we already have?”