Karen Brooks Hopkins
As President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, you helped turn a modest arts venue into an electric hub of avant-garde activity that transformed a quiet neighborhood and created a powerhouse cultural destination. That Brooklyn today rivals Manhattan in the global artistic imagination is due in no small part to the force of your irrepressible personality and the generosity of your inexhaustible heart. You began your career at BAM in 1979, under the equally inspiring and imposing arts administrator Harvey Lichtenstein. Your assignment from him was to “work like hell,” and, for more than three decades, that is exactly what you did. Under your leadership, the organization’s endowment exploded, making possible a series of capital projects that revolutionized its physical and artistic footprint. With your help, BAM introduced original, creative ventures that subverted convention and established bold new standards. Chief among them was the Next Wave Festival, in which audiences were exposed to novel theatrical experiences that challenged them to think differently about the nature of art and the world around them. You were known for believing in and nurturing young artists, resolute in your commitment to supporting the new and the untested. Always, you fought to keep BAM accessible and affordable and very much a part of the community it called home. In 2015, shortly before your retirement, a landmark architectural project was announced to link all of BAM’s buildings together in one unified campus—a fitting capstone to a lifetime of transformative work. In all that you have done, you have embodied President John F. Kennedy’s famous declaration that “the arts incarnate the creativity of a free society.” You are the arts incarnate and have harnessed your unrivaled resilience and grit to build a world in which imagination and intellect tower over conformity and mediocrity. Columbia is proud to celebrate your contributions to our free society with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.