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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

jan 31 2008 - a special event at DTA

Hi. I’m so glad you’re all here. We have a few things to share with you about what’s going on with us today, how we got here, where we’re going… but, as many of the theater people here know, there are a lot of ways to tell a story. Because this isn’t just Downtown Art’s story.. this is our story. Your story.

Downtown Art is here today because of you… because you, and I really mean you, have worked so that this neighborhood can continue to be a home for diversity, for art, for differences living side by side. This block, which recently officially became the East 4th Street Cultural District, has been a home to immigrants, artists and working people for generations. The first Yiddish theater was created here. Working people organized on this block – in 1900, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union was founded across the street, at what was then the Labor Lyceum. This block, like this neighborhood has always been about community. And so first I want to honor the people here tonight, who represent these ongoing, living traditions that are the backbone of our neighborhood’s character… from those on this block, La MaMa, Teatro Circulo, WOW Café, to beyond at Third Street Music School Settlement, Henry Street Settlement, DCTV, the Lower Eastside Girls Club, everywhere we turn we find you.. and we are extremely proud to be in your company, to be your colleague. Communities of places like these create an environment where a company like ours can grow; truly, there wouldn’t have been an ‘us’ if there hadn’t have been ‘you.’ So you are the story.

And Councilmember Rosie Mendez and her colleague and chief of staff Lisa Kaplan – they are a big part of this story. As is Margarita Lopez, our feisty former Councilmember. These amazing women have fought hard on behalf of this neighborhood – to keep it economically and ethnically diverse, to meet its very critical needs for decent affordable housing, for strong schools, for life’s real necessities… but they have also been able to support elements that go beyond the concrete and practical, they’ve taken leadership to see that the imaginative, inquiring, spirit of this community is encouraged, is nurtured… because as human beings, as much as we need shelter, food, security… we can’t avoid our need to dream, to invent, to long for stories that help us see into ourselves, for new ways to understand this world, this life. We are all of this, and Rosie and Lisa made a big commitment this year when they led the way to find money – over $3 million in new funding – to turn that broken down vacant building across the way into a home for imagination and enterprise. Our future home. This story is their story.

This story is Ginny Louloudes’ story – I think her organization ART/NY may actually the story of every small theater in this city – but it’s also of her good advice and ongoing encouragement, of the support of her and her staff every step of the way towards making this mini Cultural District a reality, of those amazing arts advocates at NYSCA, including Robert Zukerman and Ann Van Ingen, and of the staff at NYC’s Dept of Cultural Affairs, specifically our smart, committed colleague Alicia Grossman.

And this is Dolores Vanison Blakely’s story, the Executive Director of Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance, along with her partners Enrique Cruz DeJesus and Donna Clark, who’ve walked every step of the way with us through the ups and downs, good days and not so good days, that are now, inevitably and most definitely, leading us to a new building where they will also have a home. Finally. A home they truly deserve.

Of Judith Foster and the Neighborhood School and Mark Pingitore of Tompkins Square Middle School, who gave me the chance to work in two amazing public schools that really believes in artists, that can actually think of young people as artists of validity, real artists not some kind of ‘human work in progress’, but people with something extraordinary to offer right now, if those of us who are older could just see a bit more clearly. Of Sofia Pereira, the first teacher I ever collaborated with, who became a very close friend, and who took to theater-making like a duck to water, whose enthusiasm for the work we did not only lit up her class with courage, imagination, and the determination to master new skills, but who spent countless, unbelievable hours working side by side with me here at Downtown Art or home in my apartment to make costumes, props, anything… who has left her mark indelibly on us. Her story.

The story of Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper of Nature Theater of Oklahoma who fired our imaginations last year and who helped me to grow as an artist and director, of Nello McDaniel who has been councilor and advisor to me and Downtown Art and who, and this is unexpected, is as creative and imaginative at tackling nonprofit organizational structure and adapting it to suit us and move us forward as any of us could ever be with a piece of script, of Tamara Greenfield, whose arrival a year ago as the Executive Director of Fourth Arts Block has made this Cultural District leap forward with renewed energy and hope,

And the board members of Downtown Art, the astonishing and enthusiastic Elena Feliciano, the generous and wise Bruce Morrison, the thoughtful, cheerful Guillermo Franco, Sam Greenhoe who will tackle any carpentry or technical problem we can dish up with enthusiasm and skill, Rosemary Quinn who embodies a hearty, passionate, joyous love of young people and their creativity, Cliff Scott, who co-founded this company decades ago, who pioneered and homesteaded our first home on this block, who literally spent an entire summer singlehandedly putting a roof over our heads, whose commitment to Downtown Art is only equaled by the pleasure with which he greets, commends, and praises each and every effort he sees us make.

It is the story of my family, of their astounding and never wavering support, of my beloved daughter Dakota and the way she has embraced the sometimes odd life of a theater family, and of my partner, my Board Chair, my musical collaborator, and .. new this year.. my husband, Michael Hickey, who has so generously placed himself at the heart, the need, the very center of Downtown Art that I can’t even get enough distance to praise and thank him elegantly, and will have to just tell him, like all of you, that there is no story without you.

Finally, Downtown Art’s life and history, is the story of every young person who is here tonight, and the hundreds more who have been part of these past 10 years when Downtown Art committed itself to them, who are loved and honored in this community as individuals, as artists, as people of courage, intelligence, wit, humor, and who bring life and hope to all of us.

That’s how we got here today. And what is today? Three years ago I had hoped that today might be the day we opened a new season in a new home. A year ago, today might have been the day that I told you, I’m sorry, it’s no good, we did our best but obstacles like water damage, renovation budgets that escalated from 1 million to 4 million, and a host of other delays and hurdles were too much for this small company to overcome. But, miraculously, today is the day that I can tell you that for the first time, I can see that opening date. It’s two years off, it won’t happen until 2010, but it is now inevitable. It will arrive. Everything is in motion.. that new arts center will be made and those doors will open.

And so I can tell you that you got us through the wilderness. And I can tell you something about what’s ahead: that when we open that new space, we will expand our theater work with young people with three new disciplines: music, video, and community service. We will be a home for young artists and for young citizens, for creating, recording, writing plays, composing music, drafting lyrics, making documentaries, and finding ways to connect who we are with our world. And we intend to make everyone that created this story proud of where it leads next. Thank you so much.

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