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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Thank You, Alan Fishman

Judith and Alan Fishman address Merce Cunningham and company at a BAM gala in 2009. Photo: Elena Olivo
By Susan Yung

News flash: Brooklyn is riding a wave of popularity as a place to live, work, and play. BAM is central to this evolution both culturally and geographically, as it has been for much of its 156 years of existence. For the entire 21st century, Alan H. Fishman led the institution as chairman of the board until recently ceding the seat to Adam Max. During his tenure, attendance has grown to reach 700,000 visitors annually, and programming has blossomed in variety and reach. The Fisher building opened at 321 Ashland in 2012; its main performance space is named for Alan and Judith Fishman, and has drawn its own fan base for its intimate size and surprising versatility. Under Fishman’s watch, Katy Clark succeeded Karen Brooks Hopkins as president, and the BAM Endowment has grown to nearly $100,000,000.

Fishman was born and raised in Brooklyn. He attended Erasmus Hall in Flatbush, where he was a star and captain of the basketball team. While he has had an impressive career in the financial services industry, he has distinguished himself by supporting an astonishing number of Brooklyn’s philanthropic and cultural endeavors, as well as organizations that encourage growth and reinvestment in the borough and its citizens.

Alan Fishman at the opening of the BAM Fisher. 
Photo: E. Frossard
In addition to being board chair at BAM, he has had the same leadership position at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which has become a paradigm for the reuse of industrial/military facilities. He founded the Brooklyn Community Foundation, which gives grants to borough grassroots groups that foster equality and understanding. And he worked with the Brooklyn Recovery Fund to aid people who suffered losses after Hurricane Sandy. His wife, Judith, is on the board of Mark Morris Dance Group. Both Alan and Judith, who live in Brooklyn Heights, dedicate their philanthropic efforts solely to Brooklyn organizations. His work for BAM will be celebrated on April 4 in The Alan Gala at the BAM Harvey. He answered a few questions by email.

Susan Yung: You’ve had leadership roles at BAM since the 80s… in that span, what changes were the most exciting to witness?

Alan Fishman: Physically, the changes to the campus are beyond comprehension in every possible way. Interestingly—beyond the Harvey opening (1987), the Fisher building opening (2012), the paint job that restored the Peter Jay Sharp Building—the thing I keep thinking about every time I come into the Sharp Building lately is the lobby floor. When I came to meet Harvey and Karen in the 80s, the beautiful mosaic floor was covered in ugly gray battleship paint. Removing the paint seems to me an apt metaphor for the rebirth of this wonderful institution.

But without a doubt the fantastic growth in the community all around BAM and the growth in the relationships we have with all of these wonderful neighborhoods—this is the most exciting thing for me. BAM without the community and the community without BAM is now unthinkable. It cannot get any better than that.

SY: What are a few of the most memorable productions that you’ve seen at BAM over the years?

AF: One of the great things about living close to the campus is it is easy to go to a lot of shows. Here are a very few: Merce on the stage during Merce Cunningham at 90, the opening scene of Atys, Princess Diana at the Welsh National Opera, Jonathan Miller’s production of St. Matthew Passion (I still play it all the time), and the early South African plays. I could go on and on. I came knowing less than nothing about the work. I got a great education.

SY: What do you think is your greatest contribution to BAM?

AF: My greatest contribution is clearly working well with Karen and Bill [Campbell, board vice chair], then adding Katy and Adam to the team. My second greatest contribution is keeping out of Harvey Lichtenstein and Joe Melillo’s artistic way.

SY: With an eye to the future, what are your wishes/goals for Brooklyn?

AF: My most fervent wish for Brooklyn is for people building in Brooklyn, and people moving into the community, to remember why they are excited about being here. Don’t mess it up! Include everyone who has been here a long time in the progress. Enjoy it and work to make it better.

SY: Your wife, Judith, is on MMDG’s board. In addition to Mark Morris and BAM, what is she most passionate about in Brooklyn?

AF: As for Judy, she actually can understand and decipher the work. And even explain it to me! So she loves the programs. Moreover, she shares all the passion of being a longtime resident, taking pride in everything Brooklyn has become. She has worked tirelessly for BAM in addition to everything else she does. We have had a ball and are so proud and thankful.

Susan Yung is senior editorial manager at BAM.

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