Apr 15, 2013
Oriana Leckert Chronicles Past and Present Underground on Brooklyn Spaces
By Elyssa Goodman
Oriana Leckert arrives at El Beit on Bedford Avenue on her bike. She rushes in in a tizzy, her curly hair short and swinging past her ears, a messenger bag made of recycled materials swung over her shoulder. Her cheeks form two perfect circles when she smiles and sits down with me outside, iced tea and a cookie in hand. “Do you mind if I smoke?” she says. I don’t, and she lights a Natural American Spirit as we begin talking.
Leckert is, as she says on her Facebook page, the Creatrix of Brooklyn Spaces, an underground culture blog dedicated to the Brooklyn’s unusual creative venues and subcultures. For example, Leckert recently included the now-defunct Broken Angel architectural space in Clinton Hill, the former Brooklyn Trolley headquarters transformed into a towering cacophony of dismantled and repurposed walls and windows by its owners in 1979. Another recent addition to Brooklyn Spaces is Wondering Around Wandering, a pop-up art gallery and artist studio in Crown Heights.
Leckert, 33, began Brooklyn Spaces in 2011 as a way to archive these under-the-radar spaces, fearful that someday they might be forgotten forever. “Why isn’t anybody making a record of these things? They’re gonna be gone. They’re gonna be gone before you know it,” Leckert said to herself before starting the blog. “My corny line, I feel like we’re living through one of these times where things are really important and crazy and happening!” she says. “In five years or fifty years, people will want to know, what was [Brooklyn] like then? To be there during that time. The way we lose our shit about photos that surface from punk squats from Alphabet City in the ‘80s or artist lofts in SoHo in the ‘70s, my mom seeing Bob Dylan in a café in the West Village in, you know, 1961. I feel like this is one of those times.”
Brooklyn Spaces is filling a need, cataloguing a history as it happens. In a few years, Brooklyn might not be this haven for delightfully off-kilter artists that it is currently, and what will happen to all of the cultural experiences these people tried to create? Leckert is out to ensure their efforts haven’t been in vain, even if the spaces eventually shut down. “The people who drive the creative class anywhere, in Brooklyn or wherever, they’re so busy creating, they’re not really thinking about fire codes and things like that, so these incredible spaces which you only might be lucky enough to experience, they’re so fleeting,” she says. In fact, of some 75 spaces already profiled, Leckert says, probably a quarter of them have closed. Some reincarnate elsewhere, but some don’t.
Writing has always been a part of Leckert’s life—she has an English degree from Rutgers, her “day job” is in publishing, and she reads about a book a week. Brooklyn Spaces was actually initially conceived as a giant coffee table book, but Leckert decided to start small with a blog. Now, two years later, she has a sizable Facebook fan base (2,049 fans), and readership (about 1,000 hits per week). She writes about a new space about once a month, and is active on social media, posting pictures of street art she finds or funny things she sees in the trash (a recent posting is of a “sad cupcake in Williamsburg” smashed on the street, frosting and cake still in tact but significantly flattened). She also posts tons of events on the Brooklyn Spaces Facebook page daily, and keeps a very thorough record of events on the Brooklyn Spaces calendar. “The blog rapidly turned into a platform to promote what people are doing,” Leckert says. “I kind of thought I was making a record for the future, but I’m also doing something I think pretty important for the present,” which, Leckert says, is helping people who may not have the time to promote their own work.
Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, Leckert moved to New York in 2001, and to Brooklyn in 2006. Her grandmother, residing in Florida but from Bensonhurst, didn’t understand why she’d want to live in New York. But Leckert brushed it off: “Grandma, I’m 20 and I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but whatever it is, I’m gonna be able to find it, I’m gonna be able to do it here,” she said. And it remains true for her today. “Maybe for how much longer, I don’t know, but whatever direction you wanna go, whatever you wanna do with your evenings, whatever kind of social circle you wanna make or family you wanna bring to yourself, I feel like it’s here, it exists.”
Leckert has definitely brought herself an underground family of sorts. When she starts talking about the aerialists, the people making soap out of their apartments in Bay Ridge, the people crafting exotic wood tables on a pier in Red Hook, her eyes glimmer and her hands practically shake with excitement as she gestures. She is utterly fascinated by the creative people in Brooklyn and the activities they pursue. “You wake up every day, and you could do anything,” she says. “You could go to work as a banker, you could smoke pot and watch TV, or you could, you know, craft an anarchist community space! In your basement! You could put on DIY punk shows in your living room, you could have burlesque in your backyard or firespinning or whatever. Those are the people I want to talk to. Hi, why do you do that when the whole world tells you not to do that? When the whole world says be responsible and grow up and do something else.” Because Leckert does this with Brooklyn Spaces, the site is not just a flat archive, but a chronicle of a vibrant underground, a sociological record of the way a sampling of Brooklynites live now.
Leckert has no plans to end Brooklyn Spaces, only to expand. She still hopes the site will become a book one day, and has even been considering visiting other cities across the country and the globe to discover what other spaces and experiences are in store. For now, each of her weekends are packed with Brooklyn activities, be it her graphic novel book club in Sunset Park, stand-up comedy in South Brooklyn, or a brisk bike ride through her own “East of Williamsburg, West of East Williamsburg” neighborhood.
“[Brooklyn Spaces] helps me constantly be amazed by where I live and connect with people who are also constantly amazed by where they live and what they’re doing,” Leckert says. “It just connects me with such an array of incredibly passionate, motivated, fascinating people….Also corny, but it’s my opportunity to give back to the community that in a lot of ways has sustained me and has made being here so terrific. It’s a small thing that I can do to give back….I’m not an aerialist and I’m not a musician, but I can write.”