“Seattle’s home for dance” is in trouble. The 23-year old Velocity Dance Center says it needs emergency funds to avoid ending its year in the red and in uncertainty of whether it can keep its 12th Avenue space. Velocity says rising rents and increasing costs of operating in Seattle have made its current financial model unsustainable.
“It is an emergency,” said Catherine Nueva España, Velocity’s executive director.
During a “Community Forum” in the main performance studio of the center’s 12th Ave space on Tuesday, Velocity’s leadership answered questions from fifteen or so supporters. They also tried to galvanize them to rally support for its “Save Our Studio” campaign.
“We’re trying to raise $120,000 by the end of the year so that we can afford to stay in our space and to stabilize moving forward,” Colleen Borst, Velocity’s development director, told CHS.
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The idea is that some of that money will keep Velocity’s head above the water, with the remainder as a cushion for 2020, when the nonprofit wants to rethink its financial model. Velocity said it had already raised 17% of its fundraising goal as of Tuesday morning.
The announcement comes on the heels of the news of Intiman Theatre’s struggle to stay afloat amid financial trouble.
But during the forum, Borst specifically called out rising rents on Capitol Hill.
“We are watching organizations left, right, and center on the Hill close down and move out because nobody can afford their space anymore, so it is real,” said Borst. “It is part of a larger crisis.”
Velocity didn’t want to leave the space, Borst added. “This is our home, and this space is our biggest asset.”
Velocity Dance Center opened in 1996 in Capitol Hill’s Odd Fellows building as a space for dance training and rehearsal. It has grown into Seattle’s only dedicated contemporary dance venue. Besides premiering and featuring contemporary dance on its stage, Velocity also functions as somewhat of an “incubator” by providing rehearsal rental space as well as artist-led classes, workshops, year-round artist residency programs.
Velocity has faced financial challenges and instability before. In 2010, the center hit some rocky ground when the Odd Fellows Hall at 10th and Pine, its home since 1996, was bought by a real estate investor who tripled the rent. Thanks to a capital campaign, Velocity was able to renovate and move into its current digs on 12th Ave.
Soon, the rent had risen to the Odd Fellows level. Velocity’s executive and artistic director Tonya Lockyer arrived at Velocity when the nonprofit struggled with financial insecurity once again.
Lockyer is credited for reviving the dance center financially and artistically in the seven-some years that followed, amidst tremendous change on Capitol Hill. Lockyer departed the nonprofit late last year. This year, Catherine Nueva España and Erin Johnson have stepped in as executive and artistic directors, respectively.
Nueva España’s goal was, she said early this year, to bring “organizational stability.”
The financial instability run deep, however. As funding has fluctuated over the years and expenses for rent, staff and production have increased, Velocity’s Borst and Nueva España said, their financial model and revenue hasn’t caught up. It has left the nonprofit stuck in a constant game of catch-up with fundraising throughout the year, without much air for coming up with long term plans.
Its space, Nueva España said, is Velocity’s most significant asset but also its greatest liability. Rent plus utilities and maintenance guzzle up $14,000 of the budget each month. That’s a lot for a nonprofit operating on a $550,000 annual budget.
Velocity is not alone in its struggles. Smaller performing arts nonprofits all over the city and country face cash-flow and sometimes debt problems. That’s not necessarily a new trend, but lately, funder and audience priorities (who can now access any ‘entertainment’ imaginable on their screens) have changed. As did, of course, Seattle and Capitol Hill, with an influx of new residents and skyrocketing rents.
“I honestly don’t know whether we can stay in our space,” Nueva España said. And, even if they have to move, Velocity’s not sure whether they can stay in Capitol Hill. “I think all options (are) on the table.”
In November, when the lease (which has a five-year renewal option) is up, Borst said, the board and staff will get together to look at whether that’s possible and how. Meanwhile, Velocity will alter some of its teaching schedules so they can shift towards renting out their spaces more, which brings in more revenue. Velocity also said it would honor commitments with artists and performers, scheduled at least until this spring.
“We are a place where people can convene,” Nueva España said. “There aren’t that many places in Seattle where people can just turn up, rehearse, meet people, be creative for a relatively low price. We’re also near light rail, and we’re also near a lot of different artistic communities. Losing the actual physical space and losing Velocity’s ability to convene could really fracture our community.”
You can learn more at velocitydancecenter.org/donate/save-our-studio/