Future of the Dance Palace: a conversation with the Board President

Three more after forty-three

A conversation with Dance Palace Board President Ann Emanuels

“The Dance Palace began with a dream and was built by community members working together, giving of themselves and their skills. It will continue to thrive through our collective energy and commitment,” said Ann Emanuels, Dance Palace Board President in conversation last Monday morning.
Working over a four-month period, beginning in January 2014, the Dance Palace Board and staff created the 2014-2017 Strategic Plan. They conducted extensive data reviews and interviews including internal staff and board surveys, town hall meetings, external reviews of key supporters, focus groups of young families and Latino community members and internal data reviews of programs and funding. Additionally, the process utilized benchmarking reviews comparing The Dance Palace with two other similar centers in the region. The research and interview process culminated with a two-day retreat involving all board members and staff.
Creating financial stability is the Strategic Plan’s principle goal, which includes fundraising, donations, grant procurement and membership growth. The Dance Palace requires $51,000 annually just to turn on its lights and open its doors. Insurance and interior and exterior maintenance are included in this figure as well. Historically, the Dance Palace received major funding from The Marin Foundation. Today less than two percent comes from the foundation, as the foundation’s focus has changed from supporting the arts to funding social services.
Looking forward, building financial stability also requires rebuilding community relationships, increasing awareness and appreciation of the Dance Palace, creating a sense of shared-ownership among the West Marin population and investment in the community center’s physical structure. These efforts enhance the public’s experience, which, in turn, create greater donor reinvestment.
And rebuilding community relationships also begins with selecting a new Executive Director, along with the refocusing of Board priorities. The Board has drafted a revised job description and prepared for a four to six month search beginning in January. While searching for a full-time executive director, the Dance Palace will be headed by an interim director. This person will continue operations and also serve as an outside consultant, and will, by default, be a third-party observer. The interim director’s comments will be important to assess administrative and facilities management procedures, as well as board and staffing efficiencies and the Palace’s role within the community. “This is an opportunity to revitalize the community’s interest and participation in the Dance Palace,” says Board President Ann Emanuels
To some the need to increase awareness and appreciation of such a venerable establishment as the Dance Palace might seem unnecessary. Yet, as with all long-standing institutions, sometimes they disappear in the public eye. “People assume we will always have a Dance Palace,” says Ann Emanuels.
The Dance Palace Board and staff envision a vigorous public communication strategy and a strengthened marketing program to help re-educate the public as to the community center’s vital role. This includes defining the Palace’s market niche, which currently encompasses senior services such as exercise classes, a book club and ceramics courses that complement vital services currently funded within the community, as well as providing meeting and event space, showcasing local artists, and producing significant performing arts programs.
The changing demographics in West Marin, including increasing cultural diversity, underscores the need for shared ownership of the Dance Palace. “In the early days, there were not enough old people supporting the Dance Palace. Now we don’t have enough young people,” says Emanuels. The Dance Palace, by definition, is a community center so it is important to support utilization of the space to share culture, ideas and talents, as well as to commemorate milestones such as births, weddings and memorials. All this develops a sense of ownership and participation among all community members. As an example, a standing room only performance last Sunday of the Latino Empowerment production of La Pastorela exemplified cross-cultural interest and unity throughout the community. Similar programs will be encouraged.
The success of programs and events very much depends on the quality of the facility. The new Strategic Plan also addresses the importance of having a positive experience with the Dance Palace. Investment, and more importantly reinvestment, of time and money happens when facilities are well run and maintained. To insure a user-friendly experience, increased financial stability will lead to upgraded restrooms, constructing a better stage and purchasing risers for better audience viewership. These projects may require a “project specific” fundraiser.
In addition to defining core values and a three-year vision, the 2014-2017 Dance Palace Strategic Plan encompasses fundraising, marketing/public relations, facilities and public access. The Strategic Plan can be found online at www.dancepalace.org. The Dance Palace Board and Staff encourage public review of the stated goals and objectives.
A community discussion regarding goals and objectives is planned at a Town Hall meeting January 26, 2015 at 6pm. The Dance Palace will provide soup and salad and asks that attendees bring a dessert item. Participation is heartily encouraged.
A complete job description for the position of Executive Director will be posted at www.dancepalace.org in two or three months.