A Legacy of Service Since 1966

Brooklyn Borough President Sebastian Leone with BAC Board Member Charlie Inniss and BAC founder Charlene Victor.
Circa early 1970s

The History of Brooklyn Arts Council

For more than four decades, Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) has fostered the cultural life of Brooklyn. Founded in 1966 in the basement of Flatbush resident Charlene Victor, BAC’s first event was a small film festival held that same year in Prospect Park. Today we have a wealth of arts programming and support services in education, professional development, grant-making, fiscal sponsorship, film & media arts and folk/traditional arts. We support Brooklyn’s visual artists through our online Artist Registry and by showing their work in BAC Gallery, our very own exhibition space located in our offices in DUMBO. The borough has changed dramatically over the years, as have we. But we have remained true to our core mission: to promote and sustain the arts in Brooklyn; and to serve the arts, and through the arts, to serve the community as a whole.

Like many Brooklynites, Charlene Victor came to the borough from somewhere else. “My husband brought me across the river from Manhattan, and I thought I was going to Siberia,” the Chicago native later recalled. “Instead, I fell in love with Brooklyn.” Determined to see the arts included in the Prospect Park centennial celebration, she gathered together local artists and community leaders to plan a series of events featuring Brooklyn artists. The events were so successful that Victor, inspired, decided to continue organizing arts programming for the community at large. And so the Brooklyn Arts and Cultural Association, known since 1987 as Brooklyn Arts Council, was born.

In its early years, BAC primarily presented arts programming. It ran the Downtown Cultural Center, also known as BACA Downtown, where Spike Lee, Danny DeVito and Suzan-Lori Parks got their start in the performing arts. In 1980 BAC expanded to include grant-making on behalf of the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. These funding opportunities, known as BAC Community Arts Grants, doubled in size in 1984. In 2003 we launched the JPMorgan Chase Regrant Program, which is funded by that financial services firm. These grants make it possible for us to support other organizations as well as artists and arts administrators at every level of their careers.

To ensure the health of Brooklyn’s cultural community, we run programs like Arts in Education, which nurtures the borough’s next generation of artists. The program, which sends professional artists into schools, community facilities and senior centers across the borough to present arts workshops to students, teachers, parents and seniors, also forges strong connections among generations of cultural-minded individuals. 

Since BAC was formed more than forty years ago, Brooklyn has undergone tremendous economic and social transformations. But the borough’s vibrant arts climate is unchanged – as is our commitment to Brooklyn’s cultural community. From our online Artist Registry to our Folk Arts program and our Arts Consultancy, we are committed to reaching and supporting arts communities across Brooklyn. Most importantly, we continue to reach out to schools, artists and community groups in the borough’s traditionally underserved communities. And we’re proud of our continued legacy to serve.