Chicago Human Rhythm Project and partners announce new facility for Chicago dance companies

Students in a Rhythm World master class.

Students in a Rhythm World master class. Photograph: Kristie Kahns

In a statement released this morning, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project announced that a shared facility for six partner organizations, with spaces rentable by smaller and/or temporary tenants, is on track to open in fall 2011.

Lane Alexander, founder and artistic director of the tap and percussive arts presenter, was one of 13 people named to Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s Arts & Culture Transition Committee on March 9.

Tentatively—and, I’ll say it, uninspiringly—named the Collaborative Space for Sustained Development (CSSD), the founding organizations are: CHRP, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Ping Pong Productions, River North Dance Chicago and Kalapriya, Center for Indian Performing Arts. Secure offices will be available for sharing and temporary or transitional needs. Ditto conference rooms, dressing areas and four studios, at least one of which will be large enough to host rehearsals of works for downtown’s biggest stages. CSSD will encompass about 12,000 square feet total.

The venture has received over half a million dollars so far from a variety of funders including the Boeing Company; the Richard H. Driehaus, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley, James S. Kemper and Polk Bros. foundations; Pamela Crutchfield; the Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development; and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which pledged support through CSSD’s first four years. Law firm Jenner & Block and ProTen Realty Group are helping pro bono.

With ideal timing, program director Suellen Burns, former Arts Bridge executive director, will attend Building Opportunities 2011: The Nonprofit Shared Space and Services Conference in Los Angeles in May. Reached by phone yesterday afternoon, Alexander noted that “we don’t need to reinvent anything that’s already been learned” about collaborative administration and resource-sharing. But the announcement suggests some concepts are due for reevaluation.

“Most cultural institutions in the United States,” it reads, “regardless of size, have experienced declining ticket revenue while education programs have held steady or grown. The medium- to long-term trend may require cultural institutions to recalibrate the balance between performance and education.” Alexander repeatedly stressed the acronym’s second S—sustainability—when explaining how the venture will be built to last.

“We are proposing to alter the traditional business model,” he says in a statement issued with the release, “by offering arts groups the opportunity to shift their reliance on earned revenue from ticket sales and contributed income to self-sustaining revenue via educational programming.” (CHRP programs such as Rhythm World already walk this walk.)

Alexander and former CHRP board chair Susan Oppenheimer initially floated three plans for a new space: Go it alone, partner with an institution, or find multiple orgs interested in collaboration. “In these economic times, the collaborative model seemed the smartest…and we found people who had the same needs and similar visions for the development of their organizations.…The upside of the downside of the economy”—he laughed—“is that it’s not the worst time to be looking for a space.”

CSSD is fairly certain it’s got its real estate wrapped up but Alexander wouldn’t give me specifics besides confirming it’s in the Loop. “The only reason why we don’t want to say where it is, is because we mentioned it to a couple of people, one of whom tried to rent it. Although it didn’t happen, it made us more cautious—we won’t let the cat out of the bag until we have a signed lease. They liked it as much as we did.”

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)