Our arts group of the month from BAC’s Directory of Brooklyn Arts Orgs is Mapleton-based Dancing Crane Georgian Cultural Center whose mission is to preserve and present Georgian traditional performance arts. Here we interview Executive Director Victor Sirelson, who gives us some insight on what its like to run this nonprofit arts organization.
Why and when was your arts group founded and by whom?
Victor Sirelson began our organization in 1996 when, embarking on a plan to learn Georgian dance, he partnered with a professional Georgian dancer Merab Tsereteli. Over the next 5 years our organization took on the name “Dancing Crane,” incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and attracted a serious group of immigrant Georgian top professional performing artists to form the Dancing Crane Georgian Performance Ensemble. After creating the Georgian Theater of New York in 2008 and establishing our children’s school for Georgian arts and culture during the years 2007-present we became a major focus of Georgian immigrant artists and families in New York City as the Dancing Crane Georgian Cultural Center.
Where in Brooklyn are you located?
Our school, studio and cultural center are at 6401 20th Avenue, Brooklyn at the corner of 64th Street and 20th Avenue.
Who is your primary audience?
Our focus is in two directions: on the opportunity for Georgian immigrant artists and families to honor their traditions and artistic interests and skills through our classes and professional performances; and on the exposure to the greater New York community of the beauty, energy and high culture of the Georgian traditional arts. Our primary audience therefore is the Georgian immigrant community in New York and our secondary audience is the general public.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?
Clearly the most challenging aspect is funding. There is a very limited pool of available money for arts organizations and the procedures for exploring such opportunities are very demanding in terms of time, energy, inspiration and searching out the requisite expertise. Our staff members are almost entirely volunteer by necessity and without professional paid development staff the obstacles are even higher. The support from the government offices and the City Council are at best marginal and there is no clear path towards receiving either recognition or support unless you have an established relationship already. So it is like entering a closed circle.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?
Brooklyn is the major center of Georgian immigrant culture and we see the value of our programs in the lives of residents on a daily basis. There is also a developing sense of an arts community in Brooklyn, supported a great deal by the Brooklyn Arts Council.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing the arts community today?
Funding, audience development and becoming free from the pressure on all arts organizations to focus on themselves as a matter of survival rather than developing an arts community.
Do you have any major events, projects or expansions on the horizon?
We have two plays in the works from our Georgian Theater of New York, our Brooklyn Schools residency program will be active in the spring, we have scheduled and planned performances of our dance, music and children’s programs. We also are participating in the New York City Cultural Affairs ”Community Arts Leadership” initiative to help improve the infrastructure of smaller arts organizations in New York City.
We are in the process of inviting the very well-known pair Lela and Eteri Tataraidze from Georgia to share their folklore from the high mountain region of Tusheti in Georgia. Two of our singers were part of Lela’s renowned vocal trio before they came to the United States. Eteri is a highly regarded folklorist.