My car died a few weeks ago, in the pouring rain, as I was taking a turn off Mass Ave onto Boylston Street by Berklee. If you know Boston, you know this is an unfortunate place to break down. I frantically turned my keys in the ignition over and over, as if my car had simply misunderstood what it was supposed to do for a moment and would come to its senses. Eventually, resigned to reality, I got out of my car and stood motioning others to drive around me as I sat on hold with AAA, the lovely soundtrack of cars honking and drivers yelling “ASSHOLE” serenading me as cold rain seeped through my sneakers and soaked my socks.
A kind man pulled over and offered to give me a jump. “I’m not sure it will work,” I said, explaining that I had been waiting for a part to arrive at my mechanic; the car likely gave out before the part arrived. “Well, we can try! Maybe we can get you over to the side where you’ll be safer.” So we tried, and for one blissful minute my car drove safely onto Boylston before breaking down again. Disappointing, yes, but as he said: at least we got the car over to a safer place to wait until AAA arrived.
While waiting, I sat in my car and read the news: after 28 years of service to the Greater Boston dance community, Green Street Studios would be closing its doors on October 27. Rent hikes had presented obstacles that simply could not be overcome. In this moment, I thought, “Surely the world is ending.” Was this dramatic? Yes. However, I was literally broken down on the side of the road in the rain reading of another example of the erasure of art and community in favor of… who knows? Luxury condos? Hip retail space? Tech offices? I don’t know what the space will become, but I have a pretty good feeling whatever it is, it won’t be meant for me. It was, in my opinion, a moment that warranted dramatics.
Each dancer in the Boston area has a different relationship to the spaces that house us and our work. Allow me to briefly share my relationship to GSS. Coming into the second season of ...that’s what she said, and the first full season as Lady BOS Productions, I was in need of a dance home for a variety of the activities I was planning. This project was, and still is, very much a fledgling endeavor. Money is tight, and sometimes nonexistent, and being so green, there is not much else to barter with as my reach and my audience are more limited than those I am approaching for help. When I reached out to Green Street Studios to be the “home” of the project, I don’t even recall these issues coming up. I presented my mission, my proposed plan, and my experience to those in charge, and was greeted with a fairly immediate “Yes, this is what we want to support.” Do you have any idea how gratifying a simple “yes” can be? Where other organizations immediately responded with prices and policies, GSS responded with excitement and ideas. And if you are thinking, “Well, maybe that is why other organizations stay open and Green Street had to close…” then you are using a limited perspective.
I have seen many artists posting along the lines of “I know the writing was on the wall for awhile, but I am still sad to see GSS close.” This is not really a fair statement. Yes, Green Street has a history of struggle. For the first five years of my dance career in this community, I felt as if GSS was at all times on the verge of closing down due to financial distress and physical disrepair. However, in the past two years, the organization turned a corner. Building improvements have been consistent and considerable, and the financial condition was stabilizing as well. Yes, Green Street evaluated my project budget alongside their own, and they provided a contract listing their policies and procedures. They evaluated how my project would fit into their financial and operational needs. They did their due diligence and we worked together to ensure the relationship was mutually beneficial. Green Street also evaluated what could be, for themselves, for me, for the artists I was working with, and for the community. They considered what could happen if they helped fertilize this young project, and, most importantly, they led the discussion from that frame of mind.
In this way, GSS was very much like the guy that jumped my car in the rain: maybe this will work, or maybe it won’t, but regardless it won’t hurt us to try so let’s try. Let’s see if we can get you where you want to go. Because new leadership worked tirelessly to revitalize Greet Street, they were in a financial position to offer help, and so they did. They used their prosperity to nurture me. They showed me that their space was a space for me: a space for my inquiry, for my growth, for my experimentation, and for my art. For that, I am forever thankful.
Whether you have had a personal relationship to Green Street Studios or not, if you are a dancer in Boston, this closure affects you. With three less studios to occupy, our community, for whom space was already a precious and scarce resource, is now scrambling. Studios that remain in the area have already experienced the frantic chaos of teachers and choreographers desperately searching for a new home for their classes, their rehearsals, and their performances. As we navigate the confusion, anger, and sadness of this news - all of which, really just amounts to grief - please try to remember the importance of kindness and grace.
I have seen an upswing of community engagement and organizing, which is wonderful. I have also seen a natural, but nevertheless unpleasant, amount of negativity and public venting. As we note the systemic problems that have led us to the situation we are in, let’s remember to approach conversations with respect and humility. At this point in my life, I have worked for and with several nonprofit arts organizations. Regardless of what funding and other resources you perceive them to have, let me assure you: struggle abounds. I have also worked with dozens and dozens of artists, each of whom has varying operational practices, financial needs, and artistic values and philosophies. Again, struggle abounds, and each of us chooses to handle and combat that struggle in very, very different ways. I note this specifically to highlight the complexity and nuance of building spaces and demanding resources “to support the dance community.” It is a tall order to ask any one space, organization, or even politician, to “support” us, when we are all over the map in terms of what we need, what we want, and what we have.
Yes, question the status quo, but balance that with respect for the efforts being made. Yes, speak your truth, but balance that with an understanding that your truth isn’t the only truth. Yes, speak with authority on topics you feel well versed in, but balance that by recognizing you do not know everything. And yes, be mad as hell, but balance that with empathy for those around you who may be grieving differently, but grieving nonetheless.
It is easy to slam your horn and scream out your window at the car that is broken down and blocking your path. But it isn’t very effective, and it isn’t very kind. Think of the person driving that car: their toes are probably cold. Offer them a jump. That is how a community should behave. That is how Green Street behaved.
WRITTEN BY: Kristin Wagner
Published October 23, 2019
This blog contains contributions from several women with who we are grateful to work. Head over to our TEAM page to learn more about who we are; scan our archives to learn more about what we think.
Top Cover Photo: "shell" by I.J. Chan, Image by Haley Abram Photography