After calling the Masonic Performing Arts Center on Euclid Avenue home for the last 20 years, Dancing Wheels Company & School is now looking for a new rehearsal space. The relocation is due to the iconic Cleveland venue’s recent sale.
Dancing Wheels Company & School president/founding artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher said efforts are underway for America’s first and foremost physically integrated dance company for people with and without disabilities to find a new base of operation, which includes a large rehearsal space that also allows for the teaching of dance classes to more than 6,500 students annually.
As part of its effort, Dancing Wheels Company launched comprehensive fundraising campaign Moving Toward a Lasting Legacy. CoolCleveland talked to Verdi-Fletcher about the entire ordeal and the Cleveland-based company’s efforts.
CoolCleveland: Can you give us a little background on what transpired with the Masonic Performing Arts Center?
Mary Verdi-Fletcher: The building was sold a couple of months ago to a group called Templelive. They’re out of Arkansas. At the time of sale, the Masons assured us we’d be safe in our space. We primarily rehearse there and perform out in the community. Shortly thereafter we were approached by Templelive’s attorneys and told we needed to vacate the property in 10 months. That would have put us in February 2018. We were quite shocked. They did extend it until May, and we have a second extensions if we need until August. That sounds like a long time but it’s really not.
CC: What kind of impact does this have on Dancing Wheels going forward?
MVF: We have 8,000 square feet of space where we’re at currently and two huge studios. We also own the floors and mirrors. We have our sets and our costumes stored there, and our offices, so this is a monumental move. The second challenge behind it is to try to find a space comparable to what we have not only in terms of for dance, but also our needs for accessibility. It needs to be wheelchair accessible and it needs to be on a bus line because a number of our dancers and students take public transportation to get to our site.
CC: Tell us about the Moving Toward a Lasting Legacy.
MVF: We put together a campaign that has a dual purpose. One is to find a location and two is to raise funds so that we’re actually able to move and do a build-out that may be necessary. What we’ve established is a $500,000 Legacy campaign. We’ve been already ramping up our fundraising activities. We have $85,000 in pledges from our board and individuals, but the pledges go from two to five years. If a new space comes and we agree, we have to move rather quickly. We’ve been approaching several foundations and our individual approaches are one-on-one for individuals who feel can support this effort.
CC: Are you planning any fundraising events?
MVF: We’re basing it more on individual donors and foundation donors. At this point we are looking at doing some event along the way — some little smaller fundraising activities — but that takes some time to organize as we go along. We do have an event committee that is focusing on ways to do that.
CC: How is Dancing Wheels going about finding a new home?
MVF: We’ve gone to many locations. We have architects who are loaned from our board member. They have secured a broker who also is working pro bono for us to help us find a location. Our big challenge is that most of the larger spaces, which would be maybe warehouse spaces, have pillars in the middle of the room. So they make it difficult to have a dance studio especially with wheelchair users and standups working together. The other challenge has been the cost. We had gotten a very good rate at the Masonic because we did all of the renovations while we were there. It’s hard to match that monthly rental. There is one space that we’re in negotiations with that would suffice for us. It’s not exactly the beautiful space we currently have, but it could work for us in a number of ways. It is on a bus line, has secured parking and does have the viability of one large studio and one smaller studio, but we’d have to do build-outs for it.
CC: Granted this is an unenviable position Dancing Wheels finds itself in, but could there be a silver lining being forced to find a new home?
MVF: Well, with a fresh new start, I think an appealing location would be moving close to the downtown area. It’s Midtown that I’m looking at, but it’s closer to PlayhouseSquare and Cleveland State. That may give opportunities for an exchange with those organizations too.
CC: Let’s hope Dancing Wheels finds a new location to call home for the next 20 years.
MVF: Yeah, that’s what we’re looking for. I’m not getting any younger, right.