At Green Street Studios in Cambridge, push is coming to shove as the venerable dance organization confronts dire financial circumstances. For more than two decades, the Central Square institution has been one of the top venues for dance creation, rehearsal, performance, and training in Greater Boston. But because of repeated rent increases, it may be forced to close next June when the current lease expires. Choreographer Marcus Schulkind, one of the organization’s founders and longtime teachers, calls it “a 22-year-dream that may be at its end point.”
Then again, maybe not. The organization’s board members met Sept. 6 to explore options to relocate rather than close, and they will hold an open community meeting Sept. 21 to solicit additional ideas and input.
Meanwhile, members of the Boston dance community are gathering to support the organization’s survival with a series of fund-raising performances. The first happens this weekend in Green Street’s black-box theater. Organized by Jessica Muise and Green Street Studios marketing manager and public programming coordinator Sarah Mae Gibbons, it will showcase a variety of choreographers and companies. Participants include Gibbons, Annie Kloppenberg & Company, Audra Carabetta, Audrey MacLean, EgoArt, Inc., Impact Dance Company, Intimations Dance, Angie Moon Dance Theatre, Mariah Steele/Quicksilver Dance, and SPUNKandCOmpany. “These companies are mostly young and aspiring, and it’s exciting because they may not be as able to host their own shows,” Gibbons says. “A lot of the work hasn’t been seen before.”
The second program in the series is planned for Dec. 13 and 14 and will feature artists who have passed through Green Street and gone on to perform nationally and internationally. “This will be geared to some of the heavy hitters who’ve been involved over the years in many different mediums, from classical ballet to modern,” says Schulkind. A concert earlier in the year showcased Green Street Studios teachers.
Like the larger Dance Complex around the corner, Green Street Studios’ beginnings as a grass-roots, artist-run initiative are humble. With a common dream and a lot of elbow grease, five young artists (Schulkind, Dance Alliance executive director Ruth Birnberg, Cheri Opperman, Paula Josa-Jones, and Pam White) began slowly converting an empty shell of space on the second floor of 185 Green St. into a local mecca for dance, with office space, bathrooms, dressing rooms, and three rehearsal/teaching studios, one of which converts into a 125-seat theater.
The nonprofit has hosted more than 2,000 performances. Currently, up to 500 students of all ages and skill levels come into the studios each week, studying a range of styles. Through projects like Moving Target, Green Street Studios also brings in master teachers from around the country to teach open classes. Twenty companies and/or solo performers use Green Street as their artistic base, including Boston Percussive Dance, which is a full-time tenant in one studio, offering classes and performances in tap, Irish, and flamenco dance. For many dancers and choreographers, like Schulkind, “it’s home.”
“I’m still a little bit in denial,” says Boston Percussive Dance founding director Kieran Jordan. “We’ve put so much energy and time and resources into building a community here. Isolation doesn’t serve the artistic process well, and there is great comfort and inspiration having all this activity under one roof. And the pairing of Green Street and the Dance Complex has made for an incredible cultural neighborhood. It would be a huge loss not to have 185 Green St.”
Initially cooperatively run, Green Street Studios is now run by a six-member board, two part-time employees (Gibbons and scheduling coordinator-development associate Audrey
MacLean), and a small but committed band of volunteers. As one might expect from this bare-bones structure, there have been administrative hitches along the way, and with no endowment, financial crises have been common. Just this summer, Green Street Studios made a plea for donations to keep the air conditioning running for classes. Schulkind, the last of the original five founders still actively involved with the organization, temporarily footed the bill himself, and the board says he has personally kept the doors open for the last two months.
“We’ve exhausted all our other options to increase income,” Schulkind says. “We feel that we are financially viable from the fall on because we have so many performances and rentals and teaching, but we’re basically just making ends meet.” He hopes the upcoming community meeting will be a rallying call to possible benefactors as well as those who will feel a genuine loss if Green Street Studios ceases to be.
Come June, something will have to give. Members of the board have met with commercial realtors to explore new spaces, but thus far, most of the suitable options lack two prime necessities: parking and a nearby T stop. Another option in discussion is to move Green Street Studios activities to the Dance Complex, but the facility is already tightly booked. “We are exploring how to keep our arms open wide to what Green Street’s needs might be in the coming months,” says Dance Complex’s new director, Peter DiMuro. “It is sad to see this happen to a sister organization literally right outside our backdoor.”
The worst scenario is that the organization will simply fold, leaving a gaping hole in Boston’s dance scene. Schulkind says, “The real question is, does Boston really care about art? Is it only going to be about someone like Mr. Cutler funding five stages out of doors, or is it other people who have another vision to build a training ground and incubator to grow and maintain artistic vitality beyond the academic institutions? That’s really the bigger question for Boston.”