1-On-1: Brooklyn Academy of Music president Gina Duncan on what landing 2024 WNBA Draft means for BAM 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 15: BAM President Gina Duncan speaks on stage during 38th Annual Brooklyn Tribute To Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House on January 15, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images for (BAM) Brooklyn Academy of Music )

Phone calls. 

Text messages. 

Email notifications. 

Being the president of a venerable organization such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Gina Duncan is one who communicates with a number of individuals on a regular basis – especially within the arts and theater community. 

Those communications with musical performers and theater acts looking to perform at BAM or those wanting to donate to the nonprofit make up a sizable portion of her work day. And on select days, she fields communications from entities she is not always used to hearing from on a typical basis. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 10: BAM President Gina Duncan and Hanif Abdurraqib attend the BAM Gala 2023 honoring Spike Lee, David Byrne and Claire Wood at Howard Gilman Opera House, BAM on May 10, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for BAM)

Enter the WNBA. Duncan mentioned how the league reached out to her about the possibility of hosting this year’s WNBA Draft at BAM and the rest became history. 

I think that they were thinking a lot about being in a venue like BAM that has the prestige and history that BAM does and also thinking about Brooklyn. I think (with) Brooklyn, there’s a definite interest and activity and excitement and vibe in Brooklyn right now that I think that the WNBA wants to smartly be a part of.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

That will indeed be the case this Monday when the dreams of 36 young women come true as they are announced by one of the 12 incumbent WNBA teams as soon joining their organizations. Duncan described the joining of forces of BAM and the WNBA as a “natural collaboration.” 

I think we all see this as the start of an ongoing partnership.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

Duncan herself is in her second tenure with BAM as she previously was the organization’s associate vice president of cinema from early 2017 to late 2019. She then became the organization’s vice president of film and strategic programming before leaving briefly to take a role at the Sundance Institute – where she was also based in New York City – as producing director. 

BAM itself is also in a convenient location for WNBA fans given it is very close to Barclays Center – the home venue of the W’s flagship franchise in the New York Liberty. Last year, BAM ran a screening for a week of the Unfinished Business documentary which told the story of the WNBA through the lens of the Liberty while highlighting its 2021 season – its first full season at Barclays Center. 

The 2022 year was the first for Duncan in her current role at BAM and she had an opportunity to attend a Liberty game at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush. She was captivated by the atmosphere Lib Loyals create to will their hometown team to victory.

And I just really love the energy that the fans had, the players had so I’m just excited that we can be the host of the WNBA Draft and just see these young women take the next step in their sport.”&nbsp

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

That signature energy that fans bring to sporting events was not present at previous renditions of the draft given the respective sizes of those venues. The last time the WNBA held a draft in front of fans was 2016 at Mohegan Sun Arena – the home venue of the Connecticut Sun. 

That was when the Seattle Storm drafted a young Breanna Stewart who played her collegiate ball right up the road from Uncasville in Storrs at UConn. 

It was also when Lisa Borders was in her first year as WNBA president before the W’s top job evolved into that of commissioner currently under Cathy Engelbert. 

The 2017 draft was held at the Samsung 837 building in New York. The 2018 and 2019 drafts took place at Nike’s New York City headquarters. In 2020 and 2021, the WNBA held its drafts virtually on account of the pandemic before the draft moved to Spring Studios in New York’s TriBeCa district for 2022 and 2023.

There is a massive wave of momentum around women’s basketball and Duncan is proud that BAM will be part of said wave when the eyes of many a sports fan will be on Brooklyn for this year’s draft. 

I think it’s really exciting. I think it’s an exciting time for women’s basketball.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

Duncan landing the WNBA Draft for BAM also comes on the heels of an NCAA tournament where the women’s version of March Madness had, arguably, more buzz around it than on the men’s side. This year’s women’s national championship game between South Carolina and Iowa outrated the men’s contest between UConn and Purdue. 

(It’s) at a really pivotal moment for the league and with Caitlin Clark coming in as well, I think that this is going to be hopefully a turning point where more and more people are going to see the value of this league and the excitement and the level of the game.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

Clark is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft – a selection held by the Indiana Fever. One can expect a sizable contingency of Iowa Hawkeyes fans to pack BAM for draft day. 

There is also a good chance that many of those fans that will be present for this year’s draft may be visiting either BAM, Brooklyn or the whole of New York City itself for the first time. Duncan views the attention BAM will gather from its status as this year’s draft host as a golden opportunity to expose a new audience to the storied arts venue. 

I think it’s an exciting opportunity for us as an institution to introduce ourselves to people near and far who may not know about the Brooklyn Academy of Music. BAM’s been around for 160 years and it’s the oldest continuously operating performing arts institution in the country.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

Three facilities comprise BAM. One of those is BAM Strong which includes the Harvey Theater. BAM Strong is located on 651 Fulton St. and the facility also includes the Rudin Family Gallery and the Steinberg Screen. 

The two other buildings that are part of BAM are the Peter Jay Sharp Building and BAM Fisher. The Sharp Building (named after the late New York real estate developer) includes the Howard Gilman Opera House (which dates back to 1908), BAM Rose Cinemas, the Hillman Attic Studio and the Adam Space (also known as BAMcafé). It is located on 30 Lafayette Ave. 

Duncan described the opera house as “beautiful.” 

As for BAM Fisher, the spaces that are part of the venue located on 321 Ashland Place include the BAM Fisher Hillman Studio, the Leavitt Workshop, the Fishman Space and the BAM Fisher Rooftop Terrace and Stutz Gardens. 

A venue that has been around as long as BAM has welcomed a number of noteworthy historical figures inside its doors. Duncan is thrilled that a space that has been shared by plenty of those names will soon see some of the biggest names in women’s basketball grace the facility with their presences. 

It was announced that Caitlin Clark, Kamilla Cardoso, Cameron Brink, Rickea Jackson, Angel Reese, Marquesha Davis, Aaliyah Edwards, Dyashia Fair, Liz Kitley, Nika Mühl, Charisma Osborne, Alissa Pili, Nyadiew Puoch, Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor will all attend in-person.

We’ve had on our stage everyone from Frederick Douglass to Thomas Edison to many major artists from across the world. So, it’s really exciting that these young women are going to be able to walk the stage and be a part of this history and there’s a larger audience that’s also going to watch this show here at BAM and be potentially interested in coming to see what the institution has to offer the next time they’re in Brooklyn.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

Interestingly enough, on the same day that the draft emanates from BAM, the Rose Cinemas at the Sharp Building will host screenings of four films – The Beast (2023) (4:15p, 7:15p), Civil War (2024) (4:20p, 6:50p, 9:30p), I Think I Do (1997) (7p) and La Chimera (2023) (4p, 6:40p, 9:20p) per the calendar page on BAM’s website. 

BAM has been the home to everything from opera to plays to film to circuses in its 160-year history so … while it might feel new to many people, it’s not something that’s completely out of our historical context.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

For many a viewer outside of the arts and theater community as well as for many an individual outside of the greater New York City community, the draft will be their introduction to what BAM has to offer. 

With tickets being sold out for Monday’s occasion, the draft is sure to have plenty of sports fans tuning in on ESPN as its coverage commences on 7 p.m. with WNBA Countdown and continuing throughout the evening. 

Duncan also sees the television coverage of the draft as a chance to draw people to BAM on their next (or first) visits to Gotham. 

The space in itself just feels really grand but I also think warm and inviting. So, I’m hoping that as folks see the space on TV, it’s going to excite them and make them interested in seeing the institution in person … when they come to New York.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

And when they do arrive in New York to pay a visit to BAM, they will not only be in the city’s largest borough, but will be in a neighborhood of Brooklyn that happens to boast one of the city’s most diverse populations. 

Fort Greene is located adjacent to downtown Brooklyn. Located in the center of Fort Greene is Fort Greene Park. The Walt Whitman branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is located in Fort Greene. The basketball venue for Long Island University is also located next to the neighborhood. 

The Mark Morris Dance Center and Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts are two other attractions that give Fort Greene its uniqueness. Filmmaker Spike Lee and musician Erykah Badu also have ties to the area. 

Flushing Ave. is to the neighborhood’s north with Atlantic Ave. to its south, Flatbush Ave. to its south and west and Vanderbilt Ave. to its east. Other neighborhoods that are adjacent to Fort Greene include Boerum Hill, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights. 

Subway stations closest to BAM include the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station (that can be accessed by the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q, and R trains), the Nevins Street station (accessible via 2, 3, 4 and 5 trains) and the Dekalb Ave. station (accessible via B, Q, and R trains).

Fort Greene, similar to the rest of Brooklyn, has undergone a transformation over that can be seen in its demographics. According to the Furman Center at New York University, the Black population of Fort Greene/Brooklyn Heights has dropped from 41.8% in 2000 to 20.9% in 2017-2021. Around the same timeframe, its Hispanic population was 19.3% in 2000 and was just above 12% in 2017-2021. 

The white population of the area has jumped from 31.1% in 2000 to 47.4% in 2017 and its Asian population, which was 4.2% in 2000 became 12.2% for 2017-2021 per the Furman Center. These changes are part of the overall transformation of Brooklyn that has taken place over the last several years which has made the borough more cosmopolitan – and is giving Manhattan a run for its money in terms of which borough is the heartbeat of New York City culture. 

The community of Fort Greene is, I think, one of the best neighborhoods in terms of the variety of arts offerings, the arts and culture that’s in the neighborhood, (the) park and all of the restaurants as well. So, I think that folks coming to BAM for the first time, and maybe even Brooklyn for the first time, are going to have a great time just exploring one of Brooklyn’s great neighborhoods.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

The official announcement that the draft would occur at BAM was released in late February. When the news became public, much of the communication that Duncan received were congratulating her on the big get for BAM. 

I heard from quite a few people across all arts sectors … who were really just excited – and obviously asking for tickets as well. So, I think that’s a great sign for BAM but also a really great sign for the WNBA.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

The last few years have gradually seen an increase in interest and television ratings for women’s sports. Between women’s basketball, women’s soccer, hockey, volleyball and softball, to say that the women’s sports realm is experiencing a boom period is an understatement. 

Duncan has experienced this first-hand since she has had the opportunity to attend Barclays Center for Liberty games. She hopes that the long-term future of women’s sports sees athletes not only receive the same accolades as men – but the same pay as their male counterparts. 

There’s no glass ceiling as far as I’m concerned in terms of women’s sports. I think that going to those New York Liberty games, seeing the amount of people there, the families, groups of friends, etc. – how excited they are to be in that space and also witnessing the level of play. I think the sky is the limit for women’s sports and I’m hoping that in my lifetime we will see women’s sports being equally lauded, equally compensated as men’s sports.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

Along with the financial status of women’s sports, Duncan is also keeping the financial status of many nonprofits – such as BAM – in mind as well. 

She is well aware of the current climate where financial backing for nonprofits is becoming harder to secure. Without that backing, especially after the onset of the pandemic, it can lead to belt-tightening and even layoffs – such as what BAM itself experienced last year. 

Her belief is that the WNBA Draft can not only help BAM’s visibility but also its fortunes in navigating what many a nonprofit can describe as choppy waters.

I think that having the WNBA Draft at BAM is a really exciting opportunity for the organization and myself in terms of being a new president and wanting to usher in new kinds of collaborations for the organization to help raise visibility for the organization in this time in which a lot of nonprofits are really struggling to connect with more donors.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president

According to ProPublica, BAM took a massive plunge in revenue from over $52 million in fiscal year 2020 to just over $29 million for fiscal year 2021 – numbers that were obviously pandemic-induced. BAM did rebound in fiscal year 2022 bringing its revenue to over $47 million with roughly three-quarters of said revenue coming via contributions (per ProPublica). 

Only time will tell what the long-term financial windfall of BAM’s elevated profile will be. 

In both the long- and short-terms, Duncan is optimistic. There will be plenty of time for Duncan and her team at BAM to crunch those tangible numbers. The intangibles are what will matter on Monday night – and those include the memories attendees to the draft will make that she hopes will last a lifetime. 

Duncan is also hoping that those who either attend the draft in-person or who watch on ESPN will keep the Brooklyn Academy of Music in mind.

She fields phone calls, sends text messages and exchanges emails as part of her daily routine. She hopes that those attending in-person or watching on ESPN will make phone calls, send text messages and submit emails about vising the venue – and the surrounding community – as part of their future New York City plans. 

I just am really excited to have the draft at BAM and really want everyone who is coming out to know that they’re going to have a fantastic experience in a world-class venue. And we can’t wait for them to come to Brooklyn.

–Gina Duncan, Brooklyn Academy of Music president