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VOL. 120 | NO. 113 | Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Katie Smythe Thinnes is director and founder of the nonprofit New Ballet Ensemble & School in Memphis.

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TDN: Tell me a bit about your new facility - location, size, how many classes it will facilitate, etc.

KST: The location is on York Avenue between Meda and Young just north of the Urban Arts Commission/Cooper-Young trestle bridge. We think of it as a gateway into Cooper-Young. It is currently 11,000 square feet, but will have 14,000 square feet of useable space once complete. We will be able to triple our capacity for classes, operate a core program for students on a professional track, add community and adult classes and host other local dance groups that require a space with quality floors for safety and more room than they currently have access to. Pilates Central will operate a full service Pilates studio upstairs. NBE is a stakeholder in Heart of the Arts in partnership with Playhouse on the Square. We are two minutes down the street from the new theater location, where we will be able to rent performance space.

TDN: Why did you choose to locate in the Cooper-Young area?

KST: Well, it's our current location, too. The Cooper Young Business Association added Central Avenue businesses to our membership two years ago. I am in my second year as a director on the board of the CYBA and live in the Central Gardens area. When we realized that we had outgrown the icehouse, I went in search of a location in Midtown. We seek to serve children and community (members) from all over Memphis. Our students from Collierville can exit the freeway on Airways, and our students from the inner city have a conduit down Parkway, Young, Airways, Lamar, Central, McLean, Evergreen and Belvedere. There are many public and private schools serving a diverse group of students that are only 10 minutes or less from our door. This organization has expanded too much to fit into First Congregational Church or an existing business, and Cooper-Young hosts a perfect mix of industrial, warehouse, residential and restaurant usage that reminds me of other urban areas that support economic and racial diversity. Uptown Minneapolis comes to mind, Chelsea in New York City, the edges of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. These areas are (at least were) affordable and had public schools with enrollment from all socio-economic strata.

TDN: How has the Cooper-Young neighborhood changed since the school has been renting space in the area?

KST: There are more restaurants, offering more choices. The Cooper Young Development Corp. and private owners have made the residential areas more hospitable. Our community organizations are stronger and the (Cooper-Young) Festival has grown. The CYBA is expanding the festival north to York this fall and we have established a safety committee. Lighting and parking is improved.

TDN: How do you feel the new school will impact or add to the development momentum in the neighborhood?

KST: The fact that we're there and active will bring life to a dormant street. It is a conversion from industrial to arts. NBE has students in attendance who seek out the training from all over Memphis. There are families who drive 40 minutes in from the eastern edge of Germantown who otherwise would only visit Cooper-Young once or twice a year, if that. So just our presence here will help get the word out about what a cool neighborhood this is. We have always hoped for a strong arts presence in the area. First Congregational and Galloway churches have really provided a service by allowing performing arts groups to have residence in their formidable spaces, but this is the first specially constructed nonprofit performing arts facility to be planted in the immediate area. Charlie Ryan (CYBA president; property owner, Rock and Soul Museum and Play It Again Memphis; and NBE board member) and I have talked about the possibility of a small music academy on York Street, as well. Surely families will be attracted to an area with a great public elementary school and quality after-school arts, all within walking distance!

TDN: Tell me a bit about the school's involvement in the community. How is the school reaching out to youth in the area of the new facility and beyond?

KST: From the moment I founded the school, I have sought to co-operate with other arts organizations, museums, nonprofits, children's organizations and public schools. Whereas many institutions have outreach as a component of their organization, even an important one, outreach is the bones of this nonprofit, the reason we exist. Being
involved in community projects that serve the underserved and enhance the quality of life in Memphis is almost a mandate in my family. If I can do half of what my parents have done for this community, well, I'll have done more than I thought I could do. My
dad was a founding member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis, president of the Arts Council and important in the development of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Agricenter International. My mother has raised millions for the YWCA, library, Junior League and United Way, and she founded the Citizen's Committee for the Blind, was very active in PIPE (Partners in Public Education), Porter Leath, Memphis
Theological Seminary and more. Service to the community is an imperative. Our main focus is to excite and educate children about dance and then recruit the children who have ability and dedication into the school on full scholarship. We do this by reaching out, performing and giving workshops in neighborhood public schools. In the C-Y area, this
year we visited Idlewild Elementary, Snowden School and Dunbar Elementary. Down Lamar, we were at Florida-Kansas Elementary, which has a 98 percent poverty rate. We hope to perform and audition at Peabody Elementary, but they have their own Orff music program and dance group, and we do not want to interfere with that, but rather support it if we can.

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159