Cambridge, MA

Contact Name
Peter DiMuro
Project Dates
October 2013 through December 2015
Almost 25 years after its founding, The Dance Complex initiated claiming street level space in its building to hold dance classes, and public events within its historic landmark-designated building. While six studios flourished for many years from the second floor and above, a void existed at eye-level, and an aging and dwindling student base threatened long running classes. One of two storefronts within the 1884 circa building, the new Studio 7 was created through multiple relationships, support systems, and a partly naive, partly optimistic spirit. A once boarded up adult themed shop has now given way to a portal to dance for professionals and community alike.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Early in a new ED's tenure at The Dance Complex, it became apparent that a much needed refinancing of the building would not occur due to the tenant in one of its first floor storefronts, namely a adult themed sex toy shop. A deal was struck to let the business go, and pros and cons of what to do with the space became a back-doored goal: how to take a forced-hand and make it a positive. The swiftly re-imagined space became a project dedicated to creating a portal of dance, making access a key question, a key goal. Challenged by the time frame and forced hand, and realizing opportunity of ultimately more mission-driven and economically viable space, the space is a result of multiple and frequent paths of action, triumphs, frustrations and ultimate success.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Once decided that a studio would be housed, the goals remained the same. Rather than change, present on a daily basis were impediments threatening the projects completion.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Key was support from the Mass Cultural Council's capital improvement monies; City of Cambridge facade reimbursement program; the city's and state's mandate for ADA standard space; the Cambridge Historical Commission and its recommendation to the state Historical Board; the Dance Complex's savings; pro bono advice from acoustic firms; discounted architect's fees; late in the process, the Barr Foundation supported us with an overall grant for many things, with a 135k appropriation for finishing the renovation.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The need to move quickly, due to financial need, forced a newly in place ED and refreshed board with the challenge of little planning time. The outcome, though, of this streamlined process actually became the metaphor for our future: a portal of dance, where dance arts are no longer sequestered in a potentially daunting refuge, but now the dance is allowed to be a visceral experience to members of the community through witnessing it. Planning has now been unleashed for how The Dance Complex can extend beyond its physical parameters on to the sidewalk (Arts Patio) and beyond. The questions of Dance Access are now more fully a part of our dialogue and plans for future: immediately Studio 7 allows those with mobility issues into our world; and we now are realizing how Access becomes a multi-dimensional defining concept for anyone who feels a barrier to dance or movement or walking through our doors.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Early pioneer of dance studios on street level included Miami Ballet's former studios in Miami Beach, off Collins Avenue. We pulled from the histories of ODC, whose second floor studios housed street level activity; and Ailey's studios in NY, with dance intentionally visible to passersby become architectural models. Other inspirations include community engaging art spaces in Washington DC, including Dance Exchange and Dance Place.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
We engaged an architect, whose initial renderings and mini-feasibility study allowed us to apply for Mass Cultural Council Capital funding. Concurrent dialogues were held with Cambridge Historical Commission, the City of Cambridge, Cambridge Arts. Engaging of a contractor, with three different ones interviewed was a longer process than expected. Due to the age of the building and bringing the work to code for safety and accessibility brought us to a slower more detailed process point. Likewise, practical usage - for dance studio classes and performance- dictated sound containment issues unforeseen at first and slowed our progress. But we accomplished a finished studio two years and three months into the process.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
As indicated above, we refined due to ADA and safety requirements; and usage intent
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Our being forced to enter into the project without feasibility studies; an underestimation of capacity, assigning our building caretaker as the contractor's direct liaison/project manager; unforeseen costs due to sound containment issues primarily in the spaces' ceiling; the discovery of asbestos, and non-ADA and safety compliant internal stairways that needed upgrading.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The then- City of Cambridge representative who handled the compliance issues became a true leader in helping us, an understaffed and inexperienced arts organization deal with renovation issues.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. execute a feasibility plan prior to embarking on a reno project;
2. budget generously, adding in for project management beyond current staff load;
3. Turn obstacles into mission driven opportunities: be sanely fearless, understand risk but also wisely choose taking them.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Central Square is a state designated cultural district, and is in a slow mode of capturing that as an opportunity. Our portal Studio 7 has opened up a rippling dialogue with Cambridge Arts, the City, Cambridge Community Foundation as well as local businesses. We, an artist led non profit are now seens as a game-changer in the city, not just an entity asking for support. Our portal changes the landscape at eye level for all who passby or now enter the building, not knowing they sought dance.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We have, on pure financial level, exceeded the monthly rent we received from the previous tenant in the space AND we are closer to mission in repurposing the space to dance and event usage. The three large window portal has brought us new awareness from people on the street. A donor is now interested in naming rights for the portal, through which we can leverage more funding. We are attracting dance class usage, but also private event rentals, meeting rentals beyond dance that help us sustain the building.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We are in the process of a strategic plan, which will help us assess where we were and are now overall, but also with the new Studio 7. Our previous and current year's budgets reveal income growth for this particular space; anecdotally, we record the different awareness from current and previous users of the building and those new to us- many of whom are finding us due to the window portal.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Our stature as a "player" in the arts field both locally and regionally has shifted: we are seen as a viable partner in workshop and performance in ways not planned. National attention has crept slowly to our doors as well
CCX Workshop Handout