Saturday, June 2, 2012

New lease, new life for Dance New Amsterdam

State Senator Daniel Squadron at DNA press conference (photo by Eva Yaa Asantewaa)

l-r: State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick; Squadron; Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin; DNA's Executive/Artistic Director Catherine A. Peila; Board of Directors Co-Chair Martha Chapman (Photo by Joon Shin)

Supporters, advisors and colleagues of Dance New Amsterdam's unsinkable Executive/Artistic Director, Catherine A. ("Kate") Peila, gathered at the studio, theater and exhibition center on Friday to learn how, after three years of dogged work, DNA had finally reached agreement with landlord Fram Realty for a substantial decrease in its rent and debt. Removing the threat of eviction from this institution, hit hard by the economic downturn, is not only a big win for the dance community but also for Lower Manhattan, where many small arts groups--such as 3 Legged Dog and Access Theater--maintain a tenuous hold in a high-stakes environment dominated by financial institutions.

"What we did was, basically, whatever it took," said State Senator Daniel Squadron. "At the end of the day, [Fram] did the right thing."

Peila exulted in her center's new, 10-year lease on life, the possibility to move forward with plans to restructure its educational department and engage artists with visions for the future of dance. Moreover, she said, the organization's new-found stability means that donors--some who stayed and others who chose to withdraw--can be assured that "their money will not disappear. We will be here."

The organization will still need to raise the more than $1.2 million needed annually to maintain its facilities.
DNA has 18 full-time employees and extends programming that supports 400 artists in commissioned and produced work. The organization also services over 11,000 individual students and dance company members yearly. Its location in The Sun Building includes six studios, a 130-seat theater, two art galleries and artist administrative space. DNA provides jobs for over 650 teachers, choreographers, technicians, visual artists and musicians through its programming. Dance education programs, performances and rehearsals are estimated to reach more than 11,000 students and dance company members along with the 20,000 plus community visitors resulting in an economic benefit of over $1 million to local businesses, MTA and the government.

While celebrating DNA's survival, State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick delicately noted the ever-present threat.

"This is a tough city in many ways," she said. "We do not do enough to nurture the soul of the city. It's a tough place because real estate runs this city."

That was the underlying theme of an informal roundtable following Squadron and Peila's press conference, attended by representatives of several at-risk arts groups from Lower Manhattan. Speakers questioned how public officials and funding agencies can expect artists to be "more entrepreneurial" with odds stacked against them and little practical support.

Participants described a long-standing atmosphere in which artists, having pioneered and transformed New York's neighborhoods, are considered, at best, temporary place-holders, at worst, barriers to economic progress. Public officials, paying lip service to the notion of helping small businesses, actually give zoning preference and tax breaks to corporate tenants with big pockets. There's little recognition of the prominent role that the arts have always played in driving New York tourism as well as stabilizing and developing neighborhood communities.

While DNA's 2010 crisis, now resolved, served to identify powerful allies such as Squadron, Glick, former City Councilmember Alan Gerson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, arts organizations will need to educate and sensitize many more public officials and mobilize communities to demand respect for the artists who make their neighborhoods more vital, safe and nourishing places to live and work.

Sign at 2010 press conference/support rally for DNA at City Hall (Photo by Eva Yaa Asantewaa)

Click here for DNA press conference and roundtable mp3 (1:33:11)

Statement from Catherine A. Peila
Almost exactly two years ago, Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) informed the public that we were threads away from eviction. DNA’s current space, which was renovated and made possible as a result of post 9/11 revitalization efforts and more than $4 million of contributed and public funding along with DNA programs revenue, was not affordable. The community supported DNA with more than 4,000 signatures of support to Mayor Bloomberg. A vow of support from the DNA dance community was further showcased on the steps of City Hall including dancing and speeches in the pouring rain.
After three years of appeals to landlord Fram Realty LLC and Abro Management, building owner, Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) – and with the help of extraordinary political leaders State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, City Council Member Margaret Chin, Community Board 1, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, former council member Alan Gerson and advocates Dance/NYC and policy expert Paul Nagle,– DNA was able to secure an affordable amended lease and reduce debt. None of which would have been possible without our dedicated pro bono lawyer Meredith Kane of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP as well DNA Board Co-Chair Richard Reice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Additionally many city agency leaders committed their time and energy to supporting DNA in finding creative solutions to our lease and cash flow conundrum.
DNA is forging ahead powerfully, building relationships and partnerships with other community arts and cultural groups. We are working personally with Michael M. Kaiser of the DeVos Institute (supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies) who is renowned for assisting world-class cultural institutions to build business models that provide the healthy atmosphere necessary for artists to thrive. We are in partnership talks with cross-discipline cultural and academic organizations, along with cross-sector businesses and institutions – allowing DNA to support and augment college accredited courses, film and acting related connections for dancers.
We are also building international contemporary partnerships that not only support the training and creation of jobs for artists but also help artists legitimize their own contemporary dance styles. We are increasing our network within the contemporary dance world and the entertainment industry such as Broadway, television and film. We are also developing an innovative entrepreneurial program that provides tools and practices to artists for developing and sustaining a creative career including merchandising and sales. We expect to announce further details within the next few months on many of these initiatives.
However, with this good news, DNA is not out of the water. Still to tackle is our debt from the original build-out (which was fraught with set-backs) and bridge loans (a result of delays and recalling of promised funding due to the economic downturn). The news of a possible eviction resulted in loss of support from funders wary of awarding grant monies to an organization that may not exist in the near future thus resulting in a severe cash-flow strain along with a reevaluation and redevelopment of budget projections, programming and administration. Today’s news is one more nod towards DNA’s
commitment to thrive in New York’s dance community. It is also an opportunity to reiterate how vital DNA is to incubating and supporting dancers, choreographers, related visual and complimentary discipline artists as well as presenting innovative cultural programming and artist commissions, quality dance education and resource sharing for dance artists of diverse dance genres.
We also hope that today’s press conference will make a statement that DNA is here to stay – we will not give up on artists whether it be lengthy multi-year negotiations, debt consolidations or loss of funding. DNA’s staff is working tirelessly to keep our doors open and we are restructuring so our programs are relevant in today’s environment. DNA’s mission is to support the development of the whole dancer through educational and creative opportunities and in a professional atmosphere – from studio-to-stage and beyond. We’ve refined our schedule of core classes and increased contemporary workshops led by Guest Artists who are active in the field of education and performance. We’re committed to artists through long-term (multi-year) residencies from conception to final product focusing on projects beyond DNA – we encourage development of touring and merchandise development and sales along with career development through cross-sector collaborations. DNA continues to offer opportunities for artists to create and be presented at DNA, to seek and develop partnerships with our cultural neighbors and businesses, advocate for arts institutions as sustainers of communities, and increase our creative and economic footprint in Lower Manhattan and New York. DNA is here to stay - and we dance on.

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