Hanging on to NYC Dance Space: Dance New Amsterdam’s Lease
Dancers struggle to make their rent in New York.
They also struggle to make their $18.00 fee for dance class, and often skip class because they can’t afford it.
These two conditions combined create quite the conundrum for Dance New Amsterdam, one dance studio in Manhattan committed to keeping prices low for dancers, but accumulating massive rent debt because of it. If, as suggested by local government, dance studios take a “more entrepreneurial” approach, what follows are higher class prices, lower teacher payments, higher studio costs, higher ticket prices and ultimately loss of the original goal: to train and nurture artists. For sustainability, a studio requires a combination of income sources—revenue from the services they offer and strong fiscal support from the community. Even an organization that seems to be thriving may be in danger of losing its home.
Such was the case for Dance New Amsterdam. Founded in 1984, DNA moved to its downtown home on West Broadway and Chambers St. in hopes of revitalizing the area post 9/11. With land values continuing to skyrocket, they were forced to begin serious negotiations with Fram Realty LLC to bring the rent to a manageable figure, significantly lower than the proposed $90,000 a month possible by 2020. The for-profit/non-profit partnership spread to involve local politicians (namely Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Deborah Glick). DNA also called on pro bono legal services of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. When neighboring cultural institutions recognized similar problems in their own businesses, they also joined the conversation.
It worked. Yesterday, DNA announced the official renewal of a 10-year lease for 280 Broadway, surrounded by those that made it possible. But the talking didn’t stop there. A Cultural Roundtable Discussion followed the press conference illuminating that this achievement, while notable, is one bullet point in the loaded issue of financial support for New York City culturals.
But why do most of Manhattan’s residents flock to the city? It’s a cultural capital of the world, where on any given night there are hundreds of live performances, art exhibitions, music concerts, speakers, readings, comedians, cultural festivals and street shows. Why did you come? Why do you stay?
Expectedly, the room was filled with “the choir”: Lower Manhattan Arts League, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Battery Dance Company, Access Theater, Arts and Business Council, Tribeca Performing Arts Center, etc. The absence of diversity in the conversation reveals one of the major barriers to progress. “We’ve been sitting in a room talking about how important we are for decades,” one speaker pointed out. The next step is to continue to partner with those who are fundamentally opposite in thinking. Speaking of the core differences between business strategies of corporations and non-profits, one participant said, “The bottom line is that a corporate mentality considers the arts fungible. They see us as a fun amenity that could be there or not.”
Money doesn’t play fair. Although DNA has been a vital piece of the area’s identity, this loyalty does not necessarily win the battle against profit. “If you let the market decide all, the whole of Manhattan would be residential,” said one speaker. But why do most of Manhattan’s residents flock to the city? It’s a cultural capital of the world, where on any given night there are hundreds of live performances, art exhibitions, music concerts, speakers, readings, comedians, cultural festivals and street shows. Why did you come? Why do you stay?
The discussion offered up a few valid suggestions for moving forward. Perhaps in cases like DNA’s, new zoning laws would be instrumental in protecting properties for the exclusive use of non-profits, specifically those that offer art to the community. Another valid approach is to combine forces with other at-risk groups that often get pushed aside by big money such as small independent businesses, social rights organizations and immigrant groups. Lots of separate issues, echoing the same complaint are much better heard together. As DNA Executive Director Kate Peila put it succinctly, “We have to make our own order.” Recalling 42nd St as little as two decades ago she said, “We watched Broadway get pushed off-Broadway and now they are off off the island. We cannot be pushed out.”
“The bottom line is that a corporate mentality considers the arts fungible. They see us as a fun amenity that could be there or not.”
DNA’s conversation is striking as an example of many like it happening nationwide. Local issues call for the voice of the community. Our priorities are directly reflected in the way we vote, the way we donate, the way we collaborate. As heard at the roundtable, “Begin projects. Partnerships are where the rubber hits the road.”