Last week, Dwana Smallwood issued a plea: Sound the alarm. Save the arts.
Since the outbreak of the health crisis, Smallwood’s Bed-Stuy dance studio — Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center — has been forced to suspend classes and cease space rentals, placing it in a dire financial position. By December, Smallwood explained, the arts center’s “cash flow will be in the negative.”
“It wasn’t easy to build. I almost closed before we opened,” the Brooklyn-born dancer wrote on Instagram about the struggles facing the institution. “Each year since, I’ve struggled to keep the doors open and continued to offer opportunities to children and the community to thrive, but COVID-19 has hit us hard like so many other small arts institutions, and what I dreaded, may actually be a reality.”
Smallwood continued to explain that without immediate funds, the center stands the risk of closing.
“I always wondered how something that means so much to so many and requires so little from each of us, will be allowed to die,” she wrote. “It would be among the greatest failures of our community if we close.”
After Smallwood’s post, a GoFundMe campaign to benefit the program launched, securing over $15,000 of its $500,000 goal within six days. As of Wednesday, more than 430 individuals contributed to the fund, with numbers continuing to rise.
“The most immediate action the community can take is to help us raise the funding needed, to stay open, to pass it along, and to share the campaign,” Smallwood told ALL ARTS over email. “The community can help us get the media’s attention as well to help #soundthealarm regarding art and how it matters in times like this. If we want to see the change in our communities, we are going to have to be a part of the change and contribute all that we can.”
A former dancer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Smallwood opened the Brooklyn dance center in 2013, with the aim of empowering young artists to “develop, grow and compete on the world’s stage.”
“The arts are used as a tool or a bridge to understanding and tolerance. The arts provide healing and meditation and security and comfort,” Smallwood said, explaining the unique role of arts. “Dancers naturally display confidence, self-esteem and poise. The arts also serve to nourish the soul.”
While the studio has been closed, in-person sessions halted and performances by the Youth Ensemble postponed, the organization has been staying in touch with students through online classes and social media.
“Not being able to use the space has been devastating,” Smallwood said. “Not having the ability to have children inside the building; their laughter and energy bring the walls and floors to life. It feels empty and sad inside. We’re also paying rent and bills to hold a space we may lose in the long run.”
Beyond immediate actions, Smallwood explained that sustained support for the institution can be fostered by “spread[ing] the word about the communities that suffer most and how there are huge disparities, which don’t allow for the same opportunities and doors to open for everyone.”
“Also, continue to donate and support those community organizations that are the support arms of our city and state agencies,” she said. “We are on the ground of the issues that matter most.”
As arts institutions remain closed, the industry is riddled with uncertainty. Last week, the Metropolitan Opera announced its stages will stay dark until next fall. In June, the Broadway League revealed theaters are not slated to raise curtains until the new year.
And while the behemoths of the sector grapple with the financial ramifications of the health crisis, smaller institutions face increased challenges — with those reporting budgets under $250,000 hardest hit in terms of annual financial figures, according to a June report titled “COVID-19 Impact on Nonprofit Arts and Culture in New York City.”
“The arts have always been the answer when the healing of a nation is needed,” Smallwood wrote in her Instagram post. “If and/or when this pandemic is over, the arts will be needed more than ever to replenish, refresh and rejuvenate our communities, our children and their families.”
More information about the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center GoFundMe campaign can be found here.
Top Image: Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center. Photo: Amy Barkow.