By Elena Oumano
Responsive and initiating in just the right proportions, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), at 38 Lafayette Ave. in Fort Greene, seems inextricably linked to its home borough, with BAM’s offerings—all the performing arts, cinema, a café, even hosting Memorial Day weekend’s sprawling outdoor African bazaar—radiating and refining the scrappy but worldly consciousness that has come to define today’s Brooklyn.
Joseph V. Melillo, BAM’s executive producer since 1999, first came to the cultural institution nearly 30 years ago to produce the first Next Wave Festival, and his sage leadership is clearly the point of equilibrium from which every BAM element flows and, at the same time, ingathers. One of his more recent successes is the completion in June of the Richard B. Fisher Center, a flexible black box space that seats 300 designed to nurture young, more experimental talent. It joins the Academy’s 2,100-seat Howard Gilman Opera House and 900-seat Harvey Theater.
Melillo was a fun-loving English major when a chance encounter in his college cafeteria steered him towards the theater. “I saw a group of kids being colorful and boisterous, and my friend said they were theater majors, so I inveigled myself into their social network and started taking theater courses, which I enjoyed immensely. It started as a social outlet. I like people very much.
“After graduate school, I realized my path was not as a director but a producer, enabling artists to do their work. After producing a theater festival in Miami, I was hired by Harvey Lichtenstein [BAM founding executive producer] to produce Next Wave and I never left. The early years gave me a tremendous education that broadened my perspectives in music and dance.”
Enabling artists working in many different forms has been a matter of “training,” Melillo says, “Pavlovian conditioning. It’s in my DNA now. A lot of research goes on with my assistants in my office. I go to performances nightly — if not here, then somewhere else. I was in Paris and Le Havre over the weekend, then at American Ballet Theatre’s gala. I’m constantly in the game and talking with colleagues about artists and projects. It’s a specific kind of existence when servicing an institution like BAM—I spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting upon a work of art I’ve experienced or researched or individuals I’ve engaged in conversation.
“Most artistic seasons are shaped by that research and experience. It’s also concomitant for someone of my age and in my professional life to give license to a younger curator that invites a new generation into your cultural institution. I produced Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, but I hired twin brothers, Aaron and Brice Dessner, guitarists in The National, to curate it for us. They live in the borough and know the younger generation of indie musicians.
“The truth is I just follow my instincts on how to service New York City and BAM-at the same time, as an international cultural capital, we have the opportunity to broaden our understanding of the globe by experiencing work coming to us from pockets of artistic energy all over the world.”
Check www.bam.org for the calendar of events and other information.
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