This week, BAC’s Board of Directors was pleased to announce the election of Antonia (Toni) Yuille Williams as the new Chair of the Board. Toni most recently served as Vice Chair of the Board, and has been a strong presence in Brooklyn’s community development sector for years. We’re thrilled to see Toni take the helm of this influential group of leaders helping to guide BAC’s vision moving forward! We caught up with Toni recently to pick her brain about working with the BAC Board, her observations of Brooklyn, and her hopes for BAC for the future:
What attracted you to joining the BAC Board of Directors initially?
I was introduced to the great work of Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) when I first joined Con Edison back in 1990. Con Ed had been and continues to be a long time partner of BAC, back when the organization was referred to as BACA, the Brooklyn Arts and Culture Association. During that iteration, BACA was everywhere….in concerts, in local parks in Brooklyn, at Lincoln Center, and in Downtown Brooklyn, nurturing playwrights. I was an actress in another life, and have always appreciated, consumed, and loved to be immersed in the art world—all aspects of art, visual, and performance. Who wouldn’t be attracted to an organization that nurtures and preserves arts and culture?
What’s your favorite thing about working alongside your fellow Board members at BAC?
I love the ideation process, as we’re figuring out how to continue to keep this organization vital even in uncertain environments. My fellow Board members are dedicated, believe in our mission, and understand the need to support our artistic community because it preserves the health of all of our communities in our borough. This Board is driven, generous, smart, and willing. Our Board is plugged in and works on behalf of this vital constituency. These people are great!
You’ve had a unique vantage point to observe the cultural change in Brooklyn over the years, through your numerous service roles as well as through your career with Con Edison. What has excited you the most about the change and growth in the borough?
As the borough has changed and opened its doors to new families, it is fun to be here and take advantage of all of this private sector investment. We’ve got a great food and art scene now in Brooklyn. What used to be a desolate downtown is now vibrant, hip, and exciting. But I’m concerned about where artists fit in, from an economic perspective. Yes, a thriving arts scene does much to market the borough, and it truly makes this an attractive and desirable place to live. The presence of BRIC, Mark Morris Dance Group, Theater for a New Audience, 651 Arts, and MoCADA does so much for the fabric of Brooklyn. But, as these influential organizations grow and infuse the cultural life of the borough, it’s easy to lose sight of the individual working artist that needs affordable housing. Individual artists do so much to spur economic development—and are ultimately pushed out because they can no longer afford to live here. That just doesn’t seem fair.
Why do you think Brooklyn has become the hub for arts & culture that it is now? How do you see BAC’s role within this dynamic cultural landscape of the borough?
Private sector investment in the borough has done so much to spur arts & culture in the Brooklyn. It’s been by design. I remember when Arnold Lehman updated the façade of the Brooklyn Museum and launched First Saturdays—the change was afoot then. I think about BRIC, which was the Fund for the Borough of Brooklyn in its early years. A lot of people contributed to this burgeoning cultural scene for decades, so many folks contributed to what we are experiencing today.
BAC has a special opportunity to be that organization that can pull all of these cultural resources together. We see a unique space for ourselves, but it will take vision and know-how to make this happen. We want to be the organization that sees the big picture when it comes to the borough’s cultural assets, while making sure that we’re present at the hyper-local level, as well as with larger cultural institutions. We’ll need to think a lot bigger, take some risks, and have the confidence to make it happen.
What do you most look forward to seeing BAC accomplish in the years to come?
We just completed our first strategic planning process, but now we need to refine and activate it. Our big dream is for BAC to be the place the world goes to know about arts and culture in Brooklyn. I’d like my leadership to inspire, motivate, and activate, to help make this dream a reality. We’ve got Charlotte Cohen (BAC’s Executive Director) as a thoughtful, seasoned, and intentional leader, and we will get to where we want to go.
Thanks for sharing, Toni!