A new home
Financial figures seldom are artful.
They can’t show a dancer sailing high into the air or twirling to create a blur of colors from confection-colored costumes. They have no sets that can depict exotic locations or music to transport the mind’s eye.
Figures do, however, forecast the future of companies that can create such on-stage magic, and these days those futures are dim.
Leaders of High Point Ballet consider it just short of miraculous and an assurance of their future that the company is moving into Centennial Station — rent free.
In early November the High Point Area Arts Council purchased Centennial Station for its own use and for its affiliate groups that require space. Ballet and Arts Council leaders are working on plans for upfitting that will begin soon. Meanwhile, Ballet already is using Centennial Station for some rehearsals and auditions.
High Point Community Theatre will move there in the spring.
“It’s a dream-come-true; it really is,” said Rita Taylor, executive director of High Point Ballet. “I’ve been waiting on it a long time. It’s surreal, an alternate reality, a wonderful surprise. But we’ve been in a dream-state for such a long time, hoping anywhere would happen.
“Whatever forces came together to create this extraordinary opportunity is a real godsend.”
Figures tell the tale of how close High Point Ballet came to not being able to function.
Since the Great Recession began in 2007-08, the group’s annual budget shrank from approximately $300,000 to $175,000 for 2012-13. To cut costs, it moved in August 2012 from studios on N. Main Street it had occupied for 13 years, where rent and overhead were nearly $50,000 a year. In August, it began renting space from its sister organization, Winston-Salem Festival Ballet, for $2,300 a month. It also has rented storage space for large sets and costumes, rented theaters for performances and paid to advertise performances. None of those prices seemed to drop along with income.
“The rent eats you alive,” Taylor said. “The only variable I could change was the rental space, but you can’t run a (dance) school without physical space.”
High Point Ballet cut its number of productions from three a year to two, and it eliminated its spring school show. The only school show that remains is “The Nutcracker” at Christmas.
“It’s a vicious cycle of you can’t work your outreach programs if all the money is going into overhead,” Taylor said. “Plus, now schools are so strapped that they can’t afford shows.” High Point Ballet’s financial problems parallel other arts organizations following the Great Recession. First, corporate support began declining, then individual donors dropped. Taylor estimates the loss of $50,000 a year from upper-level donors and $25,000 from smaller supporters.
Ballet leaders did all they could to increase income, but sometimes measures seemed counterproductive. When attendance at shows dropped —presumably because individuals had less to spend — Taylor lowered ticket prices so people could more easily attend. Similarly, she lowered membership and production fees dancers pay for classes and costumes.
One of the few financial bright spots was bringing Southeastern Regional Ballet Association’s annual conferences to High Point in 2004, 2008 and 2010. By the 2010 conference, High Point Ballet received approximately $30,000 for its role in planning the gathering in High Point. It will be here again in 2015.
“We’ve sustained ourselves, in spite of everything, not in the way you would want, but we were able to make it work,” Taylor said.
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Ballet’s home seems like perfect fit
Right now, High Point Ballet’s 4,000 square feet of wide-open, high-ceiling space pretty much looks like ... well, a big, empty room.
But that soon will change when work is finished to convert one end of Centennial Station at 121 S. Centennial St. into three studios, a conference room and office space.
“It’s going to be opulent. And with the synergy of all organizations being under one roof and the historical significance of what it means to High Point ... ” said Rita Taylor, executive director. “Could there be a better building out there? I don’t think so. Two of the studios even have windows. We’ve never had studios with natural light.”
Taylor’s husband, Gary, who is artistic director and resident choreographer, is drawing plans and working with the Arts Council on what is needed for the upfit. The Taylors anticipate beginning some classes in early March and being fully operational by early summer.
A few items, such as the barres, already are in the new space so that some rehearsals and auditions can be held.
Features that will have to be constructed or installed include: interior walls, a “sprung” floor to absorb shock, a non-slip covering for the floor and mirrors on the walls. The space has a separate loading dock, and plans call for adding a trailer outside for set and costume storage.
Ballet will share a finished lobby area with bathrooms with High Point Community Theatre. A separate entrance and lobby for the Arts Council and rental events is at the opposite end of the building.
The group can use the stage in the center area of the building for its smaller productions. The Arts Council installed extra security features throughout the facility and additional exterior lighting.
Its new home will allow High Point Ballet to provide additional classes for the community, to bring in guest artists to work with students and to return focus to education and outreach programs, which have suffered in the recent years of financial difficulties.
“It will allow us to focus our money on other things, such as scholarships,” Taylor said.
At one point, 33 percent of students who studied at High Point Ballet received full scholarships, but recently that number dropped to 10 percent, Taylor said.
The Ballet and Arts Council will work together on cost of the upfit. The Arts Council board will determine if High Point Ballet will pay a portion of utilities and if it will continue to receive an allocation from the Arts Council’s fund drive, said Debbie Lumpkins, Arts Council executive director.
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At a glance
High Point Ballet: a nonprofit group that stages performances and educational programs and provides classical ballet training for a fee. Leaders Rita and Gary Taylor also operate a studio in Southern Pines and Winston-Salem Festival Ballet in Winston-Salem; each is a separate nonprofit entity with separate boards of directors.
History: High Point Ballet began as a for-profit called Taylor Dance. It became a nonprofit group in 1987. It became an associate affiliate of the High Point Area Arts Council in the late 1980s, and in 1992 it became a fully funded affiliate.