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Showtime in Brooklyn: The rebirth of the Brooklyn Paramount

A view of the Music Hall inside the Brooklyn Paramount theater (Evan Joseph/Live Nation)
Evan Joseph/Live Nation
A view of the Music Hall inside the Brooklyn Paramount theater (Evan Joseph/Live Nation)
Author

A very happy welcome back to the Brooklyn Paramount, in the heart of New York’s most populous borough’s fast-evolving downtown. After as a giant movie house for talkies, then a magnet for the likes of Miles Davis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Ethel Merman, the Paramount closed as a live music stage more than 60 years ago.

Then the square peg of this baroque space with tremendous acoustics became the home court for the square peg of .

LIU remains the theater’s landlord, but the entertainment giant Live Nation (which in 2010 merged with Ticketmaster) has restored it to immaculate condition as a performing arts venue. Even those who revile the megacompany can appreciate this production, bringing Brooklyn for a wide range of great acts from all over the world.

The reopening brings to mind the 2015 revival of the , a beautiful and historic space now reestablished as a cultural mainstay in central Brooklyn.

We’re not just marking a ribbon-cutting here, but making a crucial policy point. In the wake of the COVID pandemic and in the midst of a work-from-home revolution, many a Cassandra has asked whether cities are stuck in a doom loop.

The theory goes: Fewer companies will need to locate in urban centers, and fewer workers will need to live in or near them — so the places will hollow out, and taxes and services will plummet, like Detroit after the decline of the Big Three automakers.

That may be happening in some mid-sized and even larger cities, but it , and a major reason is that there are some things this largest and best metropolis offers that no other place can. Chief among those, right on par with inimitable street life, is culture.

Culture has some very recognizable manifestations like the world’s greatest museums, from the Metropolitan and MoMA to the Guggenheim and the Whitney, as well upper-crust performing arts spaces like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. But it is also Broadway shows, attended by 12 million people a year.

It is off-Broadway performances, and performances in boroughs other than Manhattan, from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to the Queens Theatre to fantastic smaller spaces that number in the hundreds and overlap with what we often call the nightlife industry. It is comedy clubs and art galleries and fashion shows.

It is the outdoor art, music, dance and more that people encounter in our parks and on our sidewalks. Not least, it is the theater and music and art taught in our schools, which is in a symbiotic relationship with so many great institutions.

Even in a world where you can stream almost anything — especially in such a world — there is no replacement for real spaces where people come together to witness inspiring, enthralling, challenging works of art and entertainment.

We must appreciate the economic value of New York City’s creative economy, which employs about 300,000 people and accounts for . More importantly, we can’t lose sight of the fact that for the city to survive and thrive, culture is and must remain its very soul.

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