Brooklyn Academy of Music names first Black woman president

A letter to a magazine editor when she was 15 began Gina Duncan’s journey of betting on herself, leading her to this important milestone.

Katelynn Ulrich and Adolfo Carrion

Apr 6, 2023, 12:49 AM

Updated 476 days ago

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The Brooklyn Academy of Music has been a staple in Brooklyn for 150 years. The academy is now making history after naming Gina Duncan as its president.  
Duncan is the first Black woman to be named president of the academy. She says her love of film started when she was 15 years old. She wrote a letter to the lifestyle magazine “Mademoiselle,” asking for guidance to enter the world of film and find her path. 
“The idea that you could major in film was something I didn’t even know,” said Duncan. “The editor who wrote me back was like, ‘That is actually a possibility and this is how you do it.’” 
The letter began Duncan’s journey of betting on herself – from Northwestern University to NFL Films and the Sundance Festival. Duncan says her story is still being written.  
Duncan says she seeks to make cinema a time for entertainment, conversation, and bonding, which she found in the Brooklyn Academy of Music when she became the academy’s associate vice president in 2017.  
She went to work for Sundance but returned as the vice president of film and strategic programming for the academy before eventually being named the president.  
"I'm here because of people who were here in the ‘80s, in the ‘60s, and before, asking for that,” said Duncan. “I don't know if it would have happened without the uprisings. I think the pandemic and the uprisings caused a major disruption. I think people started to listen to the community, not just those with money, and power." 
Duncan says her plan is to make the performing arts space a more inclusive and accessible place for all regardless of background, income, or other factors.  
"Fifteen-year-old me would be incredibly excited to know that I have a position like this, that I go to fancy things sometimes and that I have figured out how to be in this world in a way that I am doing something I'm still passionate about,” said Duncan.  


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