Dance companies concerned that they are being priced out of existing studio and rehearsal space have a chance to be in on a dance community response. Organized by the Dance Resource Center, Scouting LA: The Search for Studio Space is a two hour start to DRC initiatives that include identification and mapping of affordable rehearsal space, exploration of repurposing dormant theater and commercial spaces; developing shared studio space to reduce costs, and mechanisms to obtain extended-use commitments to justify the infrastructure and floors dance companies need.
The opening salvo is a scheduled discussion at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on Thurs., May 2, from 10 a.m. to noon. With final preparations in place, DRC Executive Director Raélle Dorfan spoke with L.A. Dance Chronicle’s Ann Haskins about the upcoming discussion, the two non-dancer panelists invited to participate, and promising potential for collaborative efforts to find affordable rehearsal space.
LA Dance Chronicle: Why has the DRC organized this event?
Raélle Dorfan: At the DRC, we’ve been hearing from people concerned about losing their studio and rehearsal space to redevelopment or to gentrification. I thought if we got enough people in the room to discuss their experiences, including those who have overcome gentrification and those who are still in the struggle, we can find solutions to this problem and identify emerging ideas on collaborating or shared space with other people. We invited two panelists with expertise in those areas, but this is not a meeting where the panelists will sit down and talk at us. We envision this as more of a conversation about the dance community’s experiences and self-help efforts that also brings into the mix two individuals with some valuable perspectives for the discussion and search for solutions.
LADC: Who are the two guests, Ben Johnson and Michelle Espinosa Coulter and what do they bring to the discussion?
Raélle Dorfan: Ben Johnson is the performing arts director at the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs. He’s been working to restore a lot of theaters around town and to get those spaces utilized. We thought it would be interesting to get his perspective, what he’s been hearing around town in terms of the lack of space and effects of gentrification. He represents a look from city’s perspective about what may be available and also how best to approach any locations that could be viable for rehearsal space.
The kinds of spaces Ben is working on are more performance specific, but we wanted to get the conversation flowing. While there is also concern about performance space, this meeting is geared to rehearsal space versus performance space which we hope will come later. If there is space to rehearse, companies can’t perform.
So, we hope with Ben to focus first on whether there are there options for affordable rehearsal space. Are there possibilities or opportunities where sites he’s identified have blocks of time they are not in use for performance? Could they be used for rehearsal and with how much consistent availability? And obviously one of the biggest questions is having the correct floor because having a sprung floor is most important or most needed. Just having him with his point of view on sites and how to approach working on this issue will be valuable.
I encountered Michelle Espinosa Coulter when I was reaching out around town looking for commercial space that was sitting dormant and whether that could be used by dance companies at an affordable cost. Michelle is the director of artist housing with Meta Housing Corporation and Board Chair of Art Share LA. About the same time, Michelle found out about me. She has affordable housing projects around town. We talked about working on something that would be a beneficial arrangement for the dance community. At that moment she had only one spot available that she thought would be open to a dance company coming in and using the space.
We wanted to bring her into the conversation since finding space is the start, but flooring and working out some sort of long-term contract are also important. Most companies would like some longevity and regularity to a space, not something in and out. Also, with her background, I think it would be interesting to hear Michelle’s perspective on how to approach corporate organizations about art/culture, what local dance companies need, and even if the original purpose wasn’t rehearsal space for dance how dormant space could be utilized with the flooring and other considerations.
What also makes Michelle interesting is she is the Board Chair of ArtShare LA which follows a model of shared art space inside a housing complex. ArtShare generously opened their space to DRC when we were doing dancer health events and while they don’t have a sprung floor, they are open to working with companies, depending on what the needs are. Her being with ArtShare sort of glued together that idea and started a discussion about the possibility of dance companies sharing rehearsal space and how that would work? Would that mean working with the city or working with a corporation? With all these buildings going up in the city is there a way to get the dance community into the discussion?
Also, the discussion will target ongoing efforts to identify existing studio space around town that is available at affordable rates. There is information out there, but that information needs to be gathered and shared.
LADC: Are you hoping for both a product that centralizes information as well as the start of a broader process?
Raélle Dorfan: DRC is definitely working on updating our current resource list and developing a map that already has infrastructure space available. After the meeting we hope to do more with the information that comes out of the conversation and grow what we already have. The opportunity for companies that are in better places or have a larger budget to perhaps think of ways to partner more with other companies. The DRC wants to be a good central source for that information especially for space that is more permanent, more than for a week or so.
Also, if a company is being priced out of their current home space and another growing company is look for a larger space, maybe they can be connected and explore whether together they can keep the existing space and work out a sharing arrangement. It may not be a fit, but if the companies are unaware of each other, they can’t even have the conversation.
LADC: Why on that date and time? It’s hard to do a convocation of this sort with the far-flung nature of L.A.’s dance community. Is there any chance it will be live-streamed or the video available afterwards for those with Thursday conflicts or day jobs?
Raélle Dorfan: I know what you mean about scheduling. We considered a range of various dates and times, but it is hopeless trying to find something that really works. The DRC is exploring the tech requirements of a livestream. The map and other product will be available. And those who cannot attend are certainly invited to e-mail their experiences, questions, solutions, rehearsal space availability or anything else about the rehearsal space situation to us at email@example.com.
Scouting L.A.: The Search for Studio Space. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4708 W. Washington Blvd., West Adams; Thurs., May 2, 10 a.m.-noon, free for Dance Resource Center members, $25 for non-members.
For more information on DRC Presents Scouting L.A.: The Search for Studio Space, click here.
For more information on Dance Resource Center, click here.
Featured image courtesy of Ann Haskins.