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Arts from the African Diaspora Finds a Home at Bed Stuy Restoration

6.29.2017
Nathan Trice, Co-Director of RestorationART’s ChoreoQuest Program, performing at the 2017 Afro-Pas de Deux festival at the Billy Holiday Theatre.
Nathan Trice, Co-Director of RestorationART’s ChoreoQuest Program, performing at the 2017 Afro-Pas de Deux festival at the Billy Holiday Theatre.

When their former home in Downtown Brooklyn was approved for demolition in order to make room for a new residential sky-rise in 2014, the Cumbe Center for African and Diaspora Dance faced an uncertain future.  The organization entered a nomadic phase as they were forced to use multiple locations for rehearsal space and classes.  Fortunately, that period of uncertainty is coming to an end with the renovation of a new space at RestorationART, the cultural centerpiece of the first community development corporation in the nation, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

Cumbe, along with several other “organizations-in-residence,” will find a new home when Restoration transforms a 5,300 sq. ft. former chain store pharmacy into a multipurpose space that includes two dance studios, dressing rooms, storage, and office space for RestorationART’s Residency Program. The rehearsal and performance space is an accessible and affordable option for small to mid-size dance and theater companies and art institutions, including: the Billie Holiday Theatre; Youth Arts Academy; Ronald K. Brown/Evidence and Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshops; and ChoreoQuest choreographer-in-residence program.  The Dormitory Authority of the State of NY (DASNY) provided capital funding for the new space, the development of which will be facilitated by a bridge loan from LISC NYC.

According to Dr. Indira Etwaroo, RestorationART’s Executive Director, "RestorationART will open newly-converted ground floor rehearsal studios to complete an ecosystem of diverse creative expression, providing its programs, artists and arts institutions-in-residence a platform for sustainability, a state-of-the-art space to develop new works and engage the community in unique and meaningful ways. We are at a critical moment of reimaging and rebuilding; a critical moment of restoration."

The displacement pressures caused by today’s New York City real estate market are particularly acute for arts organizations.  According to a recent report by the Center for an Urban Future, there is a growing consensus among arts professionals that the crisis in affordability poses a major threat to New York City’s vitality as a city of cultural production. 

 “Art is a way to reflect, engage in, and document cultural activities. We come together in a communal way – humans growing together,” said Nathan Trice, Co-Director of RestorationART’s ChoreoQuest Program and a tenant of the new facility.  ChoreoQuest fills a critical niche of the dance ecosystem in New York City, providing emerging and accomplished choreographers the opportunity to create, develop and present new works, while also grooming the next generation of youth in African-American dance traditions.  “We are trying to restore what has been broken in communities, specifically African-American communities. Dance and arts are essential to that restoration. [The new space] will deepen the relationships with the community. Engaging others and identifying the role of arts is essential to community development.”

The new space also allows Restoration to serve as an anchor for home-grown Brooklyn arts organizations, such as Ron K. Brown/Evidence: A Dance Company. "Watching RestorationART step into its full potential as a residency and presenting platform has been deeply inspiring to us over the last several years,” said Ronald K. Brown, Founder and Artistic Director of Evidence.  “This new state-of-the-art dance space allows us to continue to expand our footprint to create and develop new dance works that we will present at the Billie Holiday Theatre, as well as at venues across the country and around the world.  We are proud to call RestorationART home and grateful that they have linked arms with us to ensure that Evidence is around for another 32 years."

This loan is part of LISC NYC’s Impact Development program, which has been made possible by Citi Foundation’s Community Progress Makers Award.  “We are thrilled to be playing a role in the creation of this critical new arts space,” says Sam Marks, Executive Director of LISC NYC. “In today’s supercharged real estate market, we must support nonprofits like Restoration to ensure that we don’t let vital aspects of our city’s cultural soul get crowded out.”