Thousands of people gathered at the Brooklyn Museum this past weekend for “First Saturdays,” a night of free programming that quickly turns into a party.
While some were there for the live music and the art — including the final days of an exhibition dedicated to Spike Lee — many were there for the fashion.
“It feels so good to see people dressed up,” said Sarah Dawson, 33, who has attended First Saturdays since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn. “Everybody is coming here collectively looking beautiful.”
Dawson, a self-described Keith Haring fan, made her jacket while attending the Fashion Institute of Technology. These days, she looks for outfits that work with her pregnancy.
“I’m not a super matchy person,” she said. “I don’t care about that. As long as I feel cute when I look in the mirror, I’m good to go.”
She had styled her partner Basaime Spate, 35, in a black hat that belonged to her father and a vintage jean vest, which her mom painted with the likeness of former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
Princess Spencer, 33, had driven up that day from Virginia to see the Lee exhibit. Her outfit paired camouflage pants and a white tank top with a jacket painted with images of Lauryn Hill, Lil’ Kim and Solange Knowles.
“First Saturdays is a Black event every month”
First Saturday happens on, well, the first Saturday of most months.
The Brooklyn Museum began hosting the event in 1998, and patrons can enter the museum for free and catch live music performances, film screenings, talks by curators, DJ sets, a marketplace and the occasional group yoga session. First Saturdays typically draw around 10,000 people, according to Lauren Zelaya, the museum’s director of public programming.
Each event has a theme. This past Saturday’s was “Brooklyn’s Gotta Have It,” which celebrated Black History Month as well as Lee’s exhibit, which closes on Sunday, Feb. 11.
Babel Loft, a private membership club based in Bed-Stuy, was providing drink options as DJs from the Brooklyn-based community platform The Lay Out played a 90-minute set.
The museum’s halls, stairways and even the main lobby were packed all night as people made their way through the building.
Dawson and Spate attended First Saturdays for a date night.
“At the end of the day, First Saturdays is a Black event every month, but it’s a super Black event for [Black History Month],” Dawson said. “You run into everyone here.”
Kat Leblanc, 36, said she wanted to convey that she’s “Black and proud” with her outfit, which layered a bright red jacket over a cream-colored cardigan. She finished the outfit with a gray wool beret and small silver Telfar shopping bag.
Leblanc, a stylist, said she had never visited the museum as a child even though her grandmother lived across the street. Now she makes it a point to attend First Saturdays whenever she can because she loves the energy and the fact that small businesses have a platform there.
“I’m kind of like a walking billboard,” she said. “People always compliment my outfit, and I let them know I’m a stylist, and they’re like ‘I need help!’ And we just go from there.”
“A spot to hang” for all ages
Although it becomes a party for grownups, First Saturdays is an all-ages event.
Families with children usually come around opening time in the early evening, but thousands of young people fill the museum to dance and socialize after sunset.
“We hope that it’s a place that people come, gather and catch a vibe, but we also hope it’s a place where people can build, learn and engage with one another,” said Zelaya, the museum’s public programming director.
“We’ve seen a lot of change in the neighborhood,” she added, noting that a goal for the museum was to “be welcoming to new residents but also honoring people who have deep roots in Brooklyn.”
Zelaya said that according to museum data, nearly 80% of visitors who attended First Saturdays in 2023 identified as Black, Indigenous or people of color, and 35% of them were under the age of 35.
She said the museum aimed to collaborate with local Brooklyn talent, which also attracts a younger crowd.
“For young people with a lot of energy, that’s a spot to hang,” she said.
Spencer, who was visiting from Virginia, said that although she dressed to impress a potential lover, she was also trying to be comfortable for the six-hour drive.
She said she supports the museum because she appreciates how its programming incorporates “Black exhibits.”
“We don’t really have a lot of those spaces we can be in,” she said. “It’s why I will make the drive to come to the Brooklyn Museum, because they are very diverse in the exhibitions that they have open.”