Welcome to The Hot Seat, where we interview people involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Kathleen Laziza, the founder of Smith Street’s Micro Museum. The Micro Museum just celebrated its 25th Anniversary in Brooklyn.
Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how’d you end up there?
Kathleen Laziza: I live in Boerum Hill with my family, William Laziza and my two sons ages 28 and 22. An original artistic journey from Texas brought me to Smith Street. In 1986 my performing/visual art company Laziza Electrique Dance Co. and I were displaced from our live/work space in Noho. We beat the Village Voice real estate ad by 10 hours and the realtor accepted $35 to not talk to anyone else until we arrived with the down payment in the morning. I used to commute from Noho to shop at Sahadi’s. We were delighted to be in a Arabic/Puerto Rican neighborhood. The word Laziza means delicious in Arabic and being from Texas I connect to all things Spanish.
BS: The Micro Museum just celebrated its 25th anniversary. Can you talk about its beginnings in Boerum Hill?
KL: Twenty-five years ago was actually in the previous millennium, so our beginnings in Boerum Hill seem like ancient history compared to the cosmopolitan place it has become. I actually went door to door to every business and introduced myself. So I got a chance to meet the neighbors personally. There were all sorts of mom-and-pop stores: furniture, shoes, delis, cleaners, religious store, clothing stores with 1950 children’s clothes, social clubs, and maybe four restaurants. The ground floor of 123 Smith Street was a refrigerator/stove repair shop. Micro Museum started on the 2nd floor. We renovated and expanded to the ground floor in 2002. We purchased the building in the 1990’s, although we almost did not get a mortgage company to assist because they thought Smith Street was really too sketchy and there were four vacancies on my block alone and dozens elsewhere. We had to convince them that artists are actually the economic development leaders of “fridge” neighborhoods.
After the jump, what’s happening at the museum now, the space’s evolution in Boerum Hill, and Kathleen’s favorite NYC museum…
BS: The Micro Museum is heavily focused on community leadership and support. Is that community rooted in the neighborhood, in Brooklyn as a whole, or in NYC as a whole?
KL: The Micro Museum is a New York State charitable organization although our community is geographically and artistically diverse. Our initial community was international since the Laziza Electrique Dance Co. videos were being aired worldwide or as public broadcast in other national cities (Brooklyn did not get public access TV until the early 1990s). We also participated in special annual events on Smith Street such as the International NOT STILL ART FEST. Tri-state artists participate in our live inter-disciplinary series: then called SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, now named OPEN MIC. NYC artists rented Micro Museum’s rehearsal spaces until 2010, although we recently curtailed that program. NYC art organizations come to a friendly place to meet and talk. Now we are a cultural tourist destination from around the world or around the corner. It was and is my feeling that this community diversity is what helped us navigate economic and troubling times in New York.
BS: What’s happening at the museum now?
KL: We are hosting a Founder’s Show titled Micro Museum XXV- OMG! until December 2013. The next reception occasion is October 29 from 12 – 7 pm, and admission is by donation. Micro Museum XXV- OMG! highlights my and William Laziza’s interactive art, media installations and visual art. We also hold the periodic open mic. We are planning new live events for our “Soapbox Stage” and YouTube channel. And behind the scenes, we are a museum with digital archives and a collection which needs constant attention.
BS: Do you feel that the Micro Museum has changed significantly along with the evolution of the neighborhood?
KL: Micro Museum is constantly changing – so does this neighborhood. We are 100% simpatico. Evolution happens. Micro Museum has a new tagline: Instead of “a living art center,” we are now “small venue BIG ART.”
BS: Why do you think a space like this has thrived in a place like Brooklyn?
KL: Artists are spectacular because of their stimulating and provocative work. Brooklyn naturally accepts outrageous characters. The Brooklyn character is essentially creative industry. It is a perfect fit.
BS: Finally, your faves: favorite BK neighborhood, favorite museum (not your own!) in NYC, and favorite property or development in Brooklyn.
KL: Favorite BK Neighborhood: Hard to say only one. Brighton/Coney Island Boardwalk.
Favorite Museum: I am totally fickle: it is always the last one where I saw something remarkable. This time the MET for the Alexander McQueen show.
Favorite Property: The Invisible Dog art center on Bergen street. Roulette on Atlantic Avenue is a musical gem. I’m also very excited for the new Issue Project Room on Livingston Street.
Favorite Development: The Walentas family’s DUMBO. A beautiful carousal? Awesome!