The Brooklyn Academy of Music, a sprawling arts complex with an adventurous appetite for global dance, music, opera, theater, film and literary programs, has chosen a Broadway producer to be its next artistic director.
David Binder, best known for his yearslong, birth-to-Broadway stewardship of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” will succeed Joseph V. Melillo, who has had the title of executive producer. Mr. Melillo is leaving at the end of this year after 35 years at the arts center; Mr. Binder will consult with him over the coming months and will begin as artistic director Jan. 1.
Mr. Binder, who also has extensive experience producing arts festivals, will be the top artistic official at what has become one of the city’s leading arts organizations, with an annual budget of about $50 million, 247 staffers, and a yearly audience of 750,000 people. The nonprofit has a long history: founded in 1861, it claims to be the oldest continuously operating performing arts center in the country, and its success in recent years has been closely tied to the renaissance of Brooklyn.
“It’s one of the most influential arts organizations in New York, in America, in the world — its impact is immeasurable,” Mr. Binder said in an interview. “It’s an institution that has continually explored the dialogue between local and global, it’s introduced new forms, and it has presented emerging artists and superstars, breaking down perceived barriers between high and low. It’s an incredible place.”
Mr. Binder, 50, has been working as a producer since he moved to New York in 1990 from California, where he was raised in Los Angeles and graduated from college at Berkeley. His first New York production, in the early 1990s, was a series of starry holiday readings of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory”; he went on to produce a series of benefits (including a reading of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” hosted by Barbra Streisand), awards ceremonies, and street protests for Act Up as he found his way into the industry.
He also started seeing performances at BAM. “I grew up on barricades onstage and chandelier-dropping musicals, and I remember going to see ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ at BAM, and it immediately started to reshape my aesthetic,” he said. “My trips to Fort Greene showed me artists from all over the world, and work across disciplines.”
In the early 1990s, he took a job as a production assistant on the Broadway production of “The Secret Garden,” and there he met a young actor named John Cameron Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell soon invited Mr. Binder to a club to see a character he had been developing — a German punk rock singer of ambiguous gender — which led to an initial production of “Hedwig” at Westbeth Theater in 1997, followed by a film and then, 17 years later, the Broadway production with Neil Patrick Harris in the title role, which won the Tony Award for best musical revival.
Mr. Binder has worked on many other Broadway shows — he was the lead producer of a 2004 revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” starring Sean Combs, Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad; a 2009 production of “33 Variations,” starring Jane Fonda; and a 2014 revival of “Of Mice and Men,” starring James Franco. And he has two Broadway-bound projects still in the works — a revival of “Burn This,” starring Adam Driver, and a production of “An Enemy of the People,” directed by Thomas Ostermeier (the resident director of the Schaubühne theater in Berlin).
But for BAM, his festival experience is also significant. He produced the 2007 High Line Festival, curated by David Bowie, to raise money for the park, and the 2009 New Island Festival, highlighting Dutch art, on Governors Island. And this year he is the guest artistic director of the London International Festival of Theater.
“David is an extraordinary combination of a very savvy, high-quality commercial producer and somebody who is passionate about boundary-breaking art,” said Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater and a longtime friend. “It’s a brilliant choice.”
BAM now operates at three venues in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn — the Peter Jay Sharp Building (with a 2,090 seat auditorium), the BAM Harvey Theater, and the BAM Fisher. Next year it is planning to open two new venues: the BAM Karen, with two cinemas, and the BAM Strong, with an art gallery.
Among its biggest events are the annual DanceAfrica and Next Wave festivals. Highlights last year included performances by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Geoff Sobelle’s experimental play “Home,” and the family friendly arts-tech weekends “Teknopolis.”
“Aligning the programming with BAM’s big values of being progressive and independent is a big job,” said Katy Clark, the institution’s president. “What strikes you immediately about David is his breadth, and he never seemed intimidated by the whole thing that BAM’s become, its place in the community, and what’s happened to Brooklyn.”
Mr. Binder will assume leadership of BAM at a time when there are a number of new venues in New York also focused on global and experimental programming, including the Park Avenue Armory, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and the Shed, now being developed on Manhattan’s Far West Side. Mr. Binder said the organizations “can all live together beautifully.”
“They all have different missions, different kinds of buildings and are in different parts of the city,” he said. “Together they make New York one of the most exciting cities for the arts in the world.”
Mr. Binder said among his goals would be broadening the array of performers and patrons who sustain BAM.
“Everything is possible,” he said. “I hope to introduce many new artists to BAM, and I’m looking forward to continuing to expand the diversity of the audience.”
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