Fundraising with their feet: Arts festival aims to raise money for construction at the Northampton Community Arts Trust

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  • Jen Polins, founding director of the School for Contemporary Dance and Thought, sweeps the marley dance surface in the Workroom space. At right, dancer and choreographer Cameron McKinney will perform at the Feet to the Floor Fundraiser & Festival in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jen Polins of the School for Contemporary Dance and Thought, along with Lisa Thompson and Meredith Bove of A.P.E.@Hawley, talk about “Feet to the Floor” to support improvements at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jen Polins, left, and Lisa Thompson and Meredith Bove talk about the upcoming “Feet to the Floor” fundraiser and festival to support work on the Northampton Community Arts Trust building. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Meredith Bove, program coordinator at A.P.E.@Hawley, says the Workroom space at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building, though unfinished, has been used for numerous projects, including artists’ residencies. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Additional improvements to the 3,800-square-foot Workroom space at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building include soundproofing the walls and constructing a permanent “sprung floor” for dance performances and other events. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Additional improvements to the 3,800-square-foot Workroom space at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building include soundproofing the walls and constructing a permanent “sprung floor” for dance performances and other events. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dancers Angie Hauser and Chris Aiken, who teach at Smith College, will be part of the Feet to the Floor Fundraiser & Festival Sept. 30-Oct. 3 in Northampton.  Photo by Freterking/courtesy A.P.E.@Hawley

  • Peter Yesley Peter Yesley

  • Paintings by Rachel Jenkins are part of the Feet to the Floor Fundraiser & Festival in Northampton, which also includes dance, music, poetry readings and more. Image courtesy A.P.E.@Hawley

  • Hatchery, the teen dance company at the School for Contemporary Dance & Thought, will perform at the Feet to the Floor Festival. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2021 7:57:09 AM

Dancers have had as tough a time as any artists during the past year and a half, as COVID-19 has forced an art form built around physicality and a certain intimacy onto Zoom, or forced masked live dancers to mostly stay apart.

But that doesn’t mean dancers haven’t found other ways to stay active and creative. And on the first weekend in October, dancers and other artists will come together in Northampton as part of an effort to help further construction of the city’s community arts center.

The Feet to the Floor Fundraiser & Festival, which takes place Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at the Northampton Community Arts Trust building, aims to raise money to build a wooden “sprung floor” at the 33 Hawley St. center, a floor with built-in give to absorb impact and lessen the chance for injuries to dancers, and which would also be suitable for other uses. Its expected cost is $100,000; $20,000 has been raised so far.

Organizers are dedicating this future floor to the memory of the late Nancy Stark Smith, a Northampton dancer and leader in the dance form known as Contact improvisation.

The festival, which features dance workshops and performances, an art exhibit, music, poetry and a tour of the building, is also designed to help raise funds for additional improvements to the Arts Trust’s largest space, called the Workroom, the last major part of the building remaining unfinished (with a few other exceptions).

For the project, all the participating artists are donating their time and efforts for free.

Produced by A.P.E.@Hawley and the School for Contemporary Dance & Thought, also in Northampton, the festival has been something of a moving target, says A.P.E. Associate Director Lisa Thompson. Planning has taken place during the surge of the COVID delta variant, requiring regular reassessments for, say, how many audience members should be permitted for events.

“It’s been a challenge, and not every artist (we contacted) felt comfortable about performing in the space,” Thompson said during a recent interview in the 3,800-square-foot Workroom. “But overall the program has come together pretty well.”

Jen Polins, founder and director of the School for Contemporary Dance & Thought, says she’s pleased with how many dancers have committed to the festival; many have deep connections to the Northampton dance scene, she added, “and we’re really happy to have them back.”

Schedule of events

Both Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2, include a full series of events. Sunday, Oct. 3 includes a morning dance workshop and afternoon performances by regional high school dance students, including many from the School for Contemporary Dance & Thought. The schedule on Thursday, Sept. 30, is more limited.

Friday’s itinerary includes an exhibit of paintings by Rachel Jenkins and a talk led by the artist, followed by a reading by members of the Group 18 poetry workshop in Northampton.

Saturday, Oct. 2, is the “Day of Dances” with short presentations by multiple dancers including Chris Aiken and Angie Hauser, who teach at Smith College, and Cameron McKinney, a New York dancer, choreographer and teacher whose work often celebrates Japanese language and culture. Other shorter performances that evening include dance, music and poetry.

All the events take place in the Workroom, which slowly but surely is moving closer to a finished state. The space now has a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system and has received its official certificate of occupancy.

What’s needed now is soundproofing along the walls, a lighting system, the sprung floor — dancing is currently done on a vinyl marley floor that can be set up in different locations — and more permanent seating, among other things.

The Workroom has already been used for a range of events — theater, dance classes, artists’ residencies, last year’s virtual presentations of Transperformance and First Night Northampton — but finishing the space will enable the Workroom to accommodate audiences more comfortably, Thompson and Polins note.

They envision being able to host as many as 300 people there for a range of events, just as the Arts Trust’s smaller “flex space” can host theater, dance, music and more.

Completing the construction is being done step by step, Thompson said, using grants and fundraising, which is helpful in that it can give planners a better sense of how to proceed with the next part of the construction once one part of the project is complete.

She says about $2.5 million is needed to complete construction of the entire Arts Trust building, including finishing the lobby and box office and a visual arts gallery. The entire building project cost is pegged at $9.25 million.

Thompson says a donor group recently pledged $50,000 to the Arts Trust if organizers can raise an additional $50,000 over 50 days; funding would go to creating an acoustical barrier between the Workroom and the flex space so that performances could take place in both simultaneously, with no sound bleeding through from one spot to the other.

And, Thompson added, if the Arts Trust can raise that $50,000 in 50 days, another match of up to $25,000 over an additional 25 days will be triggered: That gives the trust an opportunity to raise $150,000.

“There are so many things we can do here” once the space is finished, said Polins, who noted that the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra has used it a few times for rehearsing; and the Young@Heart Chorus has also considered it for a practice space once the elderly singing group goes back to live rehearsals.

“The sound is really good in here, and we haven’t even finished the space,” she said.

For more information on the Feet to the Floor Fundraiser & Festival, or to make a donation to ongoing construction at the Arts Trust, visit scdtnoho.com/feet-to-the-floor-fundraiser--festival.html.

Performances will likely be limited to 30 people and dance workshops to 15. Face masks and proof of COVID vaccination are required for entry.




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