The Johnstown Concert Ballet reached a major funding milestone, allowing the nonprofit dance company to move forward on a total overhaul of its new home in Johnstown’s historic Cambria City neighborhood, which the JCB has named Dance Works.
The Lee Initiatives Health and Wellness Endowment and Community Foundation for the Alleghenies collaborated to provide $125,000 in combined grants. Together with previously awarded funding from the 1889 Foundation through the Cambria City Cultural Partnership, the JCB now meets the minimum requirements to draw on a $750,000 matching grant awarded by the state.
“This gets us to where we can fulfill the vision we have for expanding the company,” says JCB Board President Monica Petak, “which we hope will transform access to the arts for everyone in our region.”
That vision came into focus nearly a decade ago, when JCB dancers and volunteers raised enough money to purchase the historic Hornick Sporting Goods building on Broad Street. Plans to convert the rundown structure into usable studios stalled due to lack of funding.
The project was revived in May of 2017, when the JCB launched a major capital campaign, with an emphasis on increasing programming, providing cultural enrichment and entertainment, and contributing to the health and wellness of the community it serves.
Empowered by this new momentum, JCB board members Monica Petak and Kamal Gella, and then-member Rosemary Pawlowski, secured the $750,000 grant through Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). This grant requires the ballet company to continue raising matching funds in order to utilize the RACP funding.
“I’m pleased to see that the governor and legislative leaders are investing in one of our area’s cultural gems,” State Representative Bryan Barbin said at the time of the award. “The upgrades funded by this grant will help ensure that the Johnstown Concert Ballet is positioned for a brighter future, now and for generations to come.”
With a fundraising deadline looming, the JCB risked losing the state grant if it couldn’t secure at least half of the matching funds. Recognizing the importance of the state’s second-oldest ballet company to our region’s cultural fabric, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies teamed up with the Lee Initiatives Health and Wellness Endowment to provide the missing pieces.
“This is an investment in healthy living, in a stronger community, and in the inspiration of young creative minds and bodies, which have a value beyond measure.” says CFA President Mike Kane. “We are also pleased that this project not only supports the arts but stabilizes and improves an important Cambria City building, in part though energy efficiencies enabled by the Community Foundation’s Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund.”
“The Johnstown Concert Ballet has elevated local arts for more than 50 years,” adds Lee Endowment CEO Don Gardill. “This is a treasure that deserves the community’s support, as it looks to meet the community’s increasing need for quality cultural activities.”
Since its purchase, the building has languished, underutilized, as storage space for JCB costumes and set pieces. In the coming months, the company will convert the 3-story edifice into Dance Works and will include two first-floor studios, a second-floor studio and conference room, and flood-safe, temperature controlled storage on the third floor for thousands of dollars’ worth of expertly sewn costumes and professionally built stage pieces. One of the first-floor studios will be the same size as the Pasquerilla Performing Arts stage, allowing for in-house rehearsals and saving the company the cost and labor of traveling throughout the area for a space that can accommodate a full cast.
With Dance Works in place, the company can tend to its goal of becoming a beacon for grace in Johnstown and surrounding communities. The vision includes an increase in instruction and performances for underserved families, creative partnerships with larger arts organizations, incubator space for new choreographers and artists-in-residence, multi-generational movement programs to benefit the physical and mental health of our region’s seniors, creating a safe space for collaborations, and a springboard for yet-to-be-imagined cultural innovations.
It’s an aggressive agenda driven by a passion for the arts, and a deep commitment to uplifting the region through creative expression.
“You see it in our students,” explains Petak. “They may not be ballerinas the rest of their lives, but they carry with them the discipline and self-esteem they learn here. Imagine giving that to children who haven’t been exposed to this type of artistic training. We already know the benefits of creative movement to our seniors. This initiative also creates jobs – construction jobs immediately, and eventually JCB staff. It’s an undertaking that addresses practical needs and intangible needs that makes this a better place to live.”
Previous support from Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and the 1889 Foundation have already enabled initial structural repairs including a new elevator with rebuilt shaft, laying the groundwork for the substantial repairs ahead. The new funding should allow the rest of the work to be completed within the next year, hopefully making the space inhabitable for next year’s programming.
With this collaboration of funding, the Johnstown Concert Ballet’s Dance Works nears the realization of a physical transformation, giving us a glimpse of how it will serve our community in the years ahead.