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Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center

Owner: Dwana Smallwood, New York, NY

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Dwana Smallwood - Lifting As She Climbs

The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center (DSPAC) in New York, is normally a bustling artistic hub. However, the center, located on Lexington Avenue in Brooklyn, was uncharacteristically quiet during the height of the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak forced it to move its array of classes online, cut operating hours, and to founder and executive director Dwana Smallwood's dismay, lay off one staff member.

Smallwood is a star in the world of modern dance. She is an alum of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and an architect of the dance program at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Vogue magazine once declared her "one of the greatest modern dancers." 

In the five years that the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center had been operating before the pandemic, it had served 20,000 people directly and indirectly through its classes, and annual M.A.M.A. Festival: More Arts, More Alive! The festival featured free performances, classes, family activities, and a voter-registration drive.

"We believe that when you bring more arts to a community, it comes more alive," Smallwood said in a telephone interview.

But last year, Smallwood had to slash the cost of courses by about 75 percent to keep them accessible to the local Bedford-Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn, which has a significant lower-income demographic.

However, Smallwood said that as a recipient of a grant from the NAACP-BeyGOOD Small Business Impact Fund, she was able to continue to pay her instructors and the center's rent. The Small Business Impact Fund is a grant program that was created by singer Beyonce's foundation, BeyGOOD, in partnership with the NAACP to support struggling Black-owned small business owners negatively affected by the pandemic and unrest across the United States.

"This provided us with more time and [kept] us afloat while we are unable to open our doors," said Smallwood. "I believe in the collective responsibility of us all and I applaud the NAACP and BeyGOOD for taking the initiative and making this happen."

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