Behind the unassuming exterior of 1467 Bedford Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn is a flourishing event space with myriad historical connections to New York City’s political scene. The former campaign headquarters of Congresswoman and Brooklyn icon Shirley Chisholm, and later the community venue Alpha Space, the building has become the new home of Unbossed Media LLC, an initiative working to provide the resources for local artists who haven’t yet had them to get their projects off the ground. New renovations and initiatives on the horizon promise a new phase for the historic space, located next to a former Studebaker showroom. Chisholm is getting a lot of attention this year, with a new national park named after her in Brooklyn, a new monument dedicated to her in Prospect Park, a photograph in an exhibition at New York City Hall, and a feature film coming starring Viola Davis.
As the representative of the 12th Congressional District from 1969 to 1983, Chisholm reached countless milestones in bringing diversity to Washington. She was the first African American woman to serve in Congress, both the first woman and African American to run for the Oval Office, and the second woman and first African American woman to serve on the House Rules Committee. Born to immigrants who had settled in Brooklyn, Chisholm was deeply involved in the development of her home community. She was a part of the Bedford-Stuyvesant divisions of the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the Urban League. Chisholm was elected to Congress in 1968 and ran for the presidency four years after. The slogan “Unbought and unbossed” refers to her refusal to accept campaign donations from large corporations and special interest groups.
After Chisholm left the space at 1467 Bedford, it was used periodically for political events, but soon fell into disrepair and disuse. Then, a little over two years ago, the building received a major redesign. New lights were installed, furniture was moved in, and the walls were cleaned and repaired. Although it’s become a trendy event space, the original design and construction has been maintained, so that it keeps the same basic look of Chisholm’s original office. As Alpha Space, the building became host of a generous variety of events and programs, ranging from comedy shows to publicly recorded podcasts to dinner get-togethers. A plaque that noted the building’s history as Chisholm’s campaign office hung on the wall until March, when it fell off due to wind. It has been placed in the window since then. The plaque has a quote from Chisholm that states, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
The name “Unbossed Media” itself is a nod to Chisholm’s famous campaign slogan “unbought and unbossed,” reflecting how the project is an extension of the mission and energy of Congresswoman Chisholm. Jeanniton said, “The idea is we’re honoring her by having this space as a place for people who are unbossed in their artistic pursuits and artistic endeavors, while also trying to build a network that might help you create you and take it to a higher level.”
Unbossed Media is dedicated to giving artists what they need to realize their creative ideas. Besides the space itself, the artists will be provided with lighting technicians and videographers, audio, and editing services. The projects could range from theater performances, comedy, and spoken word to music or live podcast recordings. And the publicity reach that performers will have extends beyond just the walls of the space. Unbossed recently acquired a Roku Channel, meaning programs recorded in the space can be broadcast on another media platform and reach more eyes and ears. Right now, much of the work towards Alpha Space’s new look has gone towards the channel, which seeks to highlight new and quirky voices through audio or video. As of now, the space’s funding has come from previous events and programs. The Unbossed team is currently working to pitch to investors and forge more connections in the industry.
The main force behind Unbossed Media LLC is Larissa Marthe Jeanniton, a Pace University graduate with a background in theater and performance art. Her inspiration for Unbossed comes from seeing other artists creating great content, but without the resources and publicity to put their work in the public eye. In the past two years since graduating from college, she realized the importance of highlighting individual stories that haven’t yet made it to the spotlight. Throughout her work for Alpha Space, one of Jeanniton’s missions has been to offer these promising creators something more to work for. “I have so many friends who do that. They do it in their living room once, or their friend’s basement one time, or in a park for half their friends, and I want it to be a space where there’s a bigger audience of people, I want to challenge myself, I want to really get my work out there and documented correctly.”
Part of the mission of Unbossed Media is to give a platform to local talent that may have not had a chance to emerge in the changing environment of Crown Heights. With much of artist notoriety focused in the highly competitive spaces of Manhattan, not to mention the ever-present threat of displacement through gentrification, neighborhoods in Brooklyn could definitely use what Unbossed Media is offering. “While this area is changing, and gentrification is definitely a thing, people can still come here and hear the stories and see the faces of people who’ve been here forever. This is a space where you can feel the energy of the neighborhood.”
As Unbossed Media’s plans progress, Jeanniton and her team are still on the lookout for a team of audio engineers, technicians, videographers, interns, and more who are invested in the mission. As always, the space is open to artists who want to join the community or pitch an idea for an event. Unbossed Media is on the way to becoming a hub of creative activity, and a network where fresh local artists can connect to a network of established names so that unique stories from Crown Heights can get the attention they deserve. Jeanniton encourages those interested to keep in touch. “I would love for people to know that if you’re an artist or a creator, this is some place you can come. Contact us, and we’ll try to make something happen for you.”