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Over the past 36 years, the name Karen Brooks Hopkins has become synonymous with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and on Tuesday night, artists and guests came out to the Duggal Greenhouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yards Waterfront to toast the esteemed outgoing president of the Brooklyn arts institution.
“Just some of the happiest working experiences of my life being here,” Alan Rickman told The Hollywood Reporter of working at BAM. “Really important times for me.” Rickman co-hosted the gala alongside John Turturro, at the Howard Gilman Opera House, which followed the dinner at the Navy Yards. Rickman appeared at BAM’s Harvey Theater in John Gabriel Borkman in 2011 and also directed Creditors there in 2010. He added that all of his experiences at BAM, both in the audience and on the stage, are thanks to Hopkins.
“First time I came here was to see Endangered Species, which Martha Clark did here, and that was the start of a very close friendship with Martha,” he said. “I owe BAM an awful lot.”
Hopkins came to BAM in 1979 and was appointed president in 1999. Over the course of the evening, Rickman and Turturro charted the massive leaps in everything from fundraising amounts to number of tweets the organization has achieved in Hopkins’ 36 years. One particular accomplishment, which was announced at the finale of the event, was the growth of the organization’s endowment, which Hopkins created with Harvey Lichtenstein, and will now surpass more than $100 million after her departure in June.
The evening boasted performances from Mavis Staples, who brought down the house in the penultimate number “I’ll Take You There”; Philadelphia-based hip-hop dance troupe Illstyle & Peace Productions; and performances from Rufus and Martha Wainwright. The siblings sang a song by their late mother, Kate McGarrigle, called “I Am a Diamond,” and Rufus re-wrote the lyrics to “New York State of Mind” and performed it as “Brooklyn State of Mind.”
“She’s supported every aspect of my career,” Wainwright told THR of working with Hopkins. “She gets the big picture. My husband Jörn and I, we all live in Montauk, and she has a place out in Montauk as well. So we’ve often sat on the beach eating shrimp cocktail and drinking champagne and waiting for the storm to come in. That’s where the real magic happens. Think Beaches with Bette Midler but nobody’s dying.”
Hopkins is known for her catchphrase, “BAM is not a job, it’s a crusade.” In addition to her fundraising skills, she has also expanded the campus to the Richard B. Fisher building and renovated the Harvey Theater and the facade of the Peter Jay Sharp building. One of BAM’s best-known events, the Next Wave Festival, also began during Hopkins’ tenure.
Each time Hopkins took the stage, she received a standing ovation, and while her achievements are many and her name will be memorialized when the organization opens its new building, to be called the BAM Karen, what she’ll miss most may surprise you.
“I have concluded that the most difficult thing will be to live without bossing people around all the time,” Hopkins said, with a laugh, adding that she’s taken to bossing around her three-year-old granddaughters who affectionately tell her, “You really need to take a nap, Grandma.”
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