Dance Palace woes

David Briggs
Increasing diversity among members and users is one way the Dance Palace could improve its financial situation.
02/28/2013

The financial outlook of the Dance Palace Community and Cultural Center came into focus this past weekend, when a small group of members gathered to discuss ways to stabilize the financial footing of a community organization seeking to reverse a tenacious budget deficit.

The annual meeting, which drew about two dozen members, underscored the range of views among individuals working to ensure the prominence of the Dance Palace, which for the second year is trying to avoid cutting programs and raising fees to close a budget shortfall totaling tens of thousands of dollars.

One obstacle to drawing more revenue is a lack of diversity among members and those who utilize the community center, according to a common refrain among staff and members who have long sought ways to appeal to a growing population of young families and Latinos they say could extend the reach of the Point Reyes Station nonprofit to a wider demographic.

“It’s the same people,” member Laura Alderdice of Point Reyes Station said at the meeting on Sunday, referring to participation from active members and volunteers. “We really need to see what younger blood can bring.”

Others, like Ann Emanuels, chairwoman of what is now an 11-member board of directors, attribute its financial uncertainty partly to a lingering recession forcing donors to restrict funding largely to social and financial service groups and programs seen as essential to the fabric of the community.

“When money is tight,” Ms. Emanuels explained after the meeting, “the arts organizations sink to a lower priority.”

Ms. Emanuels, while acknowledging the longterm benefits of seeking involvement from a wider demographic, said the organization must also turn to a more affluent demographic for financial support.

“Who’s coming into our community are people who don’t stay a while but have a lot of money,” she noted. “How do we engage them?”

A survey issued to between 300 to 400 members in December indicated respondents generally “approved of what we’re doing,” Ms. Emanuels said. The survey, which included questions about the quality of programs and costs of events, drew responses only from about 100 members, most of whom were 60 years or older.

Efforts to draw more revenue are nothing new for the community center, which relies almost entirely donations from its 500 to 600 members, fundraisers and grants from other benefactors. But the deficit, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000, has led the Dance Palace once again to consider undesirable alternatives, like increasing rental and other fees already seen by some as too costly.

The community center also might consider cutting certain programs, including after-school and other educational services. Such prospects have created trepidation among some members, like Loretta Farley of Point Reyes Station, who views such programs as “critical for growing the next generation of the Dance Palace.”  

Specifics on proposals—outside of increasing fees for weddings and other private events and organizing additional fundraisers—remain unclear. But such efforts likely would not entirely remove the financial burden off a nonprofit competing with about 80 others across West Marin.

“We live in a community that has an extraordinary amount of nonprofits,” Kathryn Lino, who serves as treasurer on the board of directors, said by phone. But “with a small population, it’s hard to get people to open up their wallets anymore.”

The shortfall follows a year in which the Dance Palace took precautionary steps, including reducing advertising and cutting programs and tapping a reserve fund, to help close a $24,000 deficit.   

Dan Mankin, executive director, attributed the decline mainly to dwindling contributions from members and other private donors. Among them is the Marin Community Foundation, from which the Dance Place received $20,000 this year, down from an average of $50,000 in previous years.   

“When there’s a recession in the regular world,” he explained, “[nonprofits are] usually the last ones out of it.”  He added: “We don’t know how much we’re going to get, or if we’re even going to get it.”

Mr. Mankin noted that the Dance Palace, which is in an unincorporated part of the county, receives limited financial support from the
county.

Still, “it’s not like the Dance Palace is going out of business,” he assured, adding the organization over the years has built a reserve fund, now totaling about $200,000, it uses to compensate for budget shortfalls and avoid cuts.

Despite limited funding, the community center has not abandoned its aspirations of becoming a linchpin for the range of demographics in and around Point Reyes Station.

Among their plans is a coming-of-age ceremony widely celebrated among Latinos, called a quinceanera, tentatively scheduled for the first time in the summer. The ceremony, seen by Latino parents as a ritual marking a transition for 15-year-old girls into womanhood, is intended for all ethnicities.  

For years members have also floated ideas like building a gallery and commercial kitchen and working with the National Park Service to renovate a historic barn, near the Giacomini Wetlands, for educational purposes.

Such ambitions indicate a prevailing optimism among some active members, like Ron Wagner of Inverness Park, whose “dream” to draw more membership and expand programs remains a priority.

But that dream, he cautioned, depends largely on whether members in the coming years can deliver a “convincing presentation” to potential donors and members about the benefits of the Dance Palace.

“You gotta’ have a vision,” Mr. Wagner said after the meeting, adding later that  the Dance Palace must create a “village awareness” by canvassing the community for participation.

Ms. Lino, treasurer of the board, agreed, explaining the Dance Palace, in order to gain more funding, must refine its niche in the nonprofit world.

“So, it’s basically telling your story well and then getting people to support it,” she said.