This week, Nicky Goren and I had the privilege of attending the ribbon-cutting for Dance Place’s new 9,500-square-foot dance education and performance space on 8th Street NE in DC.
The opening of this beautiful facility represents a milestone in the Meyer Foundation’s 34-year relationship with Dance Place. It’s also a reminder that capacity-building–especially for small, community-based nonprofits–takes time, trust, and leadership. Organizations don’t turn into community anchors after one or two grants over a few years.
When Meyer made its first grant of $5,000 to Dance Place in 1980, we recognized the need for an organization that would help the region’s emerging modern dance companies work collaboratively to build audiences and share resources. Priced out of Northwest Washington, in 1986 Dance Place purchased and renovated an abandoned warehouse near Catholic University in Brookland, creating a 160-seat theatre and performance space and a center for arts education for adults and young people.
Over the next three decades, the Meyer Foundation made 41 grants totaling nearly $1.25 million to support Dance Place. These investments included general operating support; management assistance grants for financial management, communications, and evaluation; a loan to stabilize cash flow while the organization waited for delayed government funds; and grants for renovations and capital improvements.
In 2012, as Meyer’s priorities shifted away from general support for the arts, we continued to support the Dance Place’s education programs, which had developed in response to the needs of children who lived nearby. Brookland is being transformed by redevelopment, but Dance Place continues its commitment to the families and young people it has served since it first came to the neighborhood in 1986.
None of this work would have been possible without the vision and fortitude of Dance Place’s extraordinary founder, Carla Perlo; her co-director Deborah Riley, who has taught at Dance Place since 1987; and scores of board members, donors, and business and government partners who supported the organization along the way.
In 1985, when Dance Place’s annual operating budget was $187,000 and it had just been kicked out of its home, this week’s ribbon-cutting would have been difficult to imagine. Even ten years ago, it felt like a huge stretch. Yet today, with an annual budget of $1.5 million, a spectacular new space, and nationally recognized programs, Dance Place is transformed.
Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that hard-won, incremental progress over many years can produce extraordinary results.