Get a Year’s Worth of Culture in One Weekend at the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Festival

Experience music, dance, film, food, and literature (and see Talib Kweli, Paul Auster, and “Crooklyn”!) this weekend. You can nap on Monday.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Brooklyn Arts Festival

Once the site of a parking lot and now an active home for Brooklyn’s skateboarding community, the plaza of the recently constructed 300 Ashland tower will transform this weekend into a massive stage for free concerts, dance, workshops, and lectures as part of the three-day Downtown Brooklyn Arts Festival (DBAF). The DBAF is the flagship event for the not-for-profit development organization Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and, according to its director of programming and WSWD Person Who Makes New York Special Ariana Hellerman, it couldn’t be in a better place. 

Located directly adjacent to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the plaza “is in the heart of a neighborhood that has contributed greatly to the artistic legacy of New York City,” Hellerman tells us. “We wanted to utilize this space to celebrate and exemplify artists who are both historically representative of the neighborhood and who give it life today.” Jazz vocalist Betty Carter, who was recently honored with a park in her name, formerly lived only a block away; DBAF will honor her legacy with a Saturday showing of the documentary New All the Time. Seminal hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, who will be deejaying on Sunday, grew up nearby. He’ll be spinning records at a pop-up of Nkiru Books, one of the oldest African-American bookstores in Brooklyn.

Photo by Giles Ashford/Courtesy of Downtown Brooklyn Arts Festival

The rousing, student-led drum and bugle corps Soul Tigers Marching Band will kick off the festival on Friday, leading to an outdoor evening dance party from DJ collective Soul Summit. The party keeps going from there, with tastes of Brooklyn arts across all genres on Saturday and Sunday. Here’s what we’ll be catching:


  • A family-friendly African drum circle at 11 a.m. on the plaza.
  • Free, open-air dance classes from the world-famous Mark Morris Dance Group at both 300 Ashland and the nearby Mark Morris Dance Center.
  • A daylong mosaic-making workshop hosted by Urban Glass, plus glasswork exhibitions from local artists at the Agnes Varis Art Center. 
  • An outdoor evening screening of Spike Lee’s Crooklyn on the plaza.
Photo courtesy of Downtown Brooklyn Arts Festival


  • A conversation between Brooklyn novelist Paul Auster and renowned director Peter Brook, whose newest play, Why?, will be staging on the same block at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center.
  • An excerpt from the must-see Hair & Other Stories performance by the exciting dance troupe Urban Bush Women.
  • A live concert on the plaza at 1 p.m. from the Sudanese-American indie MC Oddisee, whose 2017 LP, The Iceberg, was one of the year’s best rap albums.

Whatever you choose to do or see, definitely come hungry, as both Caribbean ice cream shop Creme and Cocoa and jerk chicken joint BK Jerk Mobile will be selling excellent local food on-site.

The 2019 Downtown Brooklyn Arts Festival
Plaza at 300 Ashland, Downtown Brooklyn
Friday, October 4—Sunday, October 6
All plaza programming is free

While you’re in the neighborhood, head to Black Forest for Oktoberfest-style brats and beer, and Greenlight Bookstore for brand-new reads.