Curating Performance in East Bay: Spotlight on Four Artist Groups

By Brittany Delany

November 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

As most young artists discover, making the art is only half the work. Bringing the art to people involves a particular method to the madness. Commissions, showcases, residencies and co-productions, to name a few, are ways to produce a piece of work. An alternative approach is to independently organize and curate the event. A Do-It-Yourself (DIY), collaborative production model for the performing arts continues to be an effective alternative to getting work produced and is popping up in a variety of spaces around Berkeley and Oakland.

This past summer, I worked with my colleague Sarah Ashkin to host six events via a program we call GROUND SERIES, taking place at the Temescal Arts Center in Oakland. I grew curious about the artists and artist groups who are organizing similar ‘arty party’ events in East Bay neighborhoods. I asked four of these groups: Temescal Arts Center, GROUND SERIES, SALTA and Foundry Nights to each submit information about their group including: what their group does, who they are, how it got started and where it is going. I present their responses vis-à-vis each member’s point of view. While each group holds unique values and aims in their practice, a common goal is building more artistic opportunities.

Photos of The Foundry by Lauren Lofton
Photos of The Foundry by Lauren Lofton


Temescal Arts Center | Leyya Tawil
Temescal Arts Center (TAC) is a performing arts venue and studio space in Oakland.  Technically speaking, we are a modular-space with a sprung wood floor, skylights, heat and basic lighting/sound equipment, with a capacity of 49. Over the past 15 years, we have been host to hundreds of dance, music and theater productions ranging from traditional to experimental. We are also a rental studio for weekly classes (dance, yoga, martial arts), workshops, lectures and special events. TAC is also home to Leyya Tawil’s DANCE ELIXIR.

Leyya Mona Tawil has been Director and Curator at TAC since 1997. Artists Malinda Trimble and Isabelle Sjahsam joined TAC as co-directors in 2011. TAC was founded in 1995 by Leigh Evans (performer and renown yoga teacher). TAC’s early years were cooperatively run by a rotating group of dancers/actors. At the time, the raw space was primarily used for classes and private rehearsals. Around 1997, the cooperative began to rent the studio to outside artists, and also began hosting performance salons. We then began to build a stronger infrastructure for performance rentals: seating, masking, lighting, etc. By the early 2000’s, we earned our reputation as a venue for experimental programming, as well as an accessible space for emerging or fringe artists.

Our curatorial vision for TAC is to support artists that are investigating or presenting work that is both professional and experimental. It’s a great venue to take risks and ask questions. TAC is a particularly awesome space for improvised music, small-ensemble dance, interdisciplinary work and bare-bones theater. Our weekday schedule is tight, so our curatorial ideas manifest by locating/attracting the right artists for performance bookings. Some particularly exciting series have popped up—like GROUND SERIES (performance research on First Thursdays) and what’s shaping up to be a Sunday night experimental music scene. It’s a very exciting time for TAC, which has witnessed the neighborhood transform entirely in the last few years.
To reach TAC:
Rental inquiries:

GROUND SERIES | Brittany Delany & Sarah Ashkin
GROUND SERIES is a meeting place for artists to share, research and connect and events take place at the Temescal Arts Center. Sarah Ashkin and I met as Dance Majors at Wesleyan University. After graduation, we continued to make work together with our dance colleagues Shayna Keller, from Los Angeles and Samantha Sherman, from New York City. As a quartet, we have performed our original choreography from Joshua Tree National Park to Judson Memorial Church. Both Sarah and I pursued internships with CounterPULSE in order to learn more about arts administration to develop skills in curation, outreach, house management and community development. Then at the start of 2012, Sarah and I connected in the Bay Area to pursue our creative practice together. As new dance-makers looking for opportunities to show our work and connect with other artists, we crave a forum that can be both productive and homey. Residencies and site-specific productions were considered first. But when I found out Temescal Arts Center had an open slot for the summer, we were inspired to fill the three months with new friends sharing food, ideas and performance—and so GROUND SERIES was born as an experiment in curation, community building and self-production. For this program, we coordinate artists, manage mailing lists, schedule space, maintain project budgets, connect with local businesses, promote events and oversee volunteers.

We hosted six events this summer and will continue to organize events through the Fall. In June, we kicked off our program with a visual art & music night, including four local visual artists and a local band. The next two events centered around sharing research. I invited specific members of the dance community who are asking similar questions into my ongoing study of “hip hop on the concert stage.” And then, Sarah and I designed a movement class around our shared research —embodied and written—into the effects of capitalism upon the body and social dance. One of our more successful events was a work in progress salon we called “SHOW & SHOW”, which prioritized movement response over verbal criticism. Four choreographers presented a dance excerpt and audience members created a movement response of what they witnessed. Around 25 people participated in a night full of risk-taking, laughing and learning. For me, this event was significant in our programming because we remixed a common model of sharing feedback into another creative and useful format. As the culmination to the summer, we put on a dance performance of three solos and an ensemble piece. For the after show, we booked a DJ and had a great dance party in the space.

Questions we keep asking ourselves as we continue with GROUND SERIES: what type of training and sharing are we interested in? what does our community of movers and makers want? who is our community? how can we make events accessible? how do we make money with events? how do artists make money? who is sharing this impulse for DIY arts curation and can we exchange models?

We want to continue to take risks and experiment with models for gathering people to exchange creative practices.

Facebook page:
Twitter: @groundseries

SALTA Collective | Chani Bockwinkel, Maryanna Lachman, Elizabeth McSurdy, Olive Noire, Mara Poliack, Sarah Pritchard and Brianna Skellie

SALTA is a collective of Oakland-based dancers in the process of starting a new space for dance. It is an experiment in dancers making spaces for dance to happen. We see it as a historical process, something we have all been waiting for.
To build momentum for the project, we have begun curating a monthly performance series. SALTA’s goal in starting this series is to provide a locus of activity for East Bay dancers. Many spaces and performance opportunities for dance are focused in San Francisco and we want to encourage the flourishing of such opportunities in Oakland, with its own localized radical piquancy.

Our curation process is organized around friendship and affinity. Each SALTA member makes an invitation to friends and comrades: Bring what you’re working on. Do something highly prepared. Abandon the plan in the middle of its execution. Hold to it fast and never let it go. Don’t perform at all. Whatever your way, we will all be there [responsible]. Collaboration through juxtaposition, confrontation, emulation, ignorance and/or contingency. Reperformance. deperformance. pseudo-, anti- and total dance. Suck marrow. Blow minds. Incarnate your ‘networkth’. Just be in Oakland with us. It’s okay what happens. The performers communally arrange an order for the evening.

We are currently utilizing a non-monetary exchange model, to both fight the commoditization of dance and to make our shows accessible to all of our broke arty cohorts. Our audience brings food, drink and unwanted clothing or household items in exchange for admission. We set up a free bar and free boutique for all to enjoy. Each performance has taken place in a different venue, with the intent to help broaden and create ties with the community involved. Cutting edge dance art cannot exist in a vacuum.

The first series happened at 2355 Broadway, artist Zach Houston’s space and home to his poemstore. Our artists shifted the audience around for each piece and we kicked up quite a bit of dust! There was some very modern dance, video art, a tea ceremony to the tunes of Bataclan ’72, performances that spilled out onto the sidewalk, someone’s mom joined in. Magic!

SALTA is in the throes of planning a space of our own where dancers can play together. The vision for the space is that a collective of interested parties would each pay for a share of the rent in exchange for time in the space to rehearse, perform, teach class, or otherwise investigate. Performances held at the space would follow the same non-monetary exchange model as the SALTA dance series. We hope to provide an informal context for dancers to show what they have been working on in a setting conducive to conversation, meeting new people and creating community to support each other’s work and research.
To reach SALTA: email:


Photos of The Foundry by Lauren Lofton
Photos of The Foundry by Lauren Lofton

Foundry Nights | Gray Performs
Quarterly arts salon, artist incubator, risk-boutique, or carnival of creativity? Foundry Nights is this and beyond. This quarterly event held in the old MacCauley Foundry in West Berkeley pulls together experimental performance, installation and visual art (and more) that is encouraged to be interactive and risky. It is a night of creativity, community, surprises, libations, inspiration and magic that transpire in our funky industrial warehouse gallery. Our artists come both through our Artists-in-Residence or Matchmaker programs and as over-the-transom independent acts.

We value creative freedom, experimentation, inquiry, testing, mixing, matching, interesting juxtapositions, trial and error, re-evaluating, charging ahead. For this reason, a lot of the work fostered at the Foundry is highly experimental, exploratory, risky, quirky, awkward, thrilling, startling, perplexing, fun for the heck of it, awkward and fresh. This is not to say that more traditional forms are not welcome. The spirit of the Foundry is all about freedom to do what it is you are curious about, always dreamed of creating, or creatively called to do—and having the people, space and resources to help you bring it to life. We are here to nurture the Unknown.

A dream existed. To create a creative wonderland and to curate cross-genre, visceral, high-quality art for audiences, and to provide all the creative resources necessary for artists to dig in,et dirty and make something site-specific and alive—no excuses.

Each of us brings something unique to the force of the Foundry—we three are all artists, curators/producers and working professionals—so we offer both artistic and technical/tangible skills to productions. Ross (creative director; wine manager at Chez Panisse) is visual artist with performance and set building experience. Justin (technical director; video media company owner) is an installation artist and engineer, previously a dance reviewer. Gray (residency director; branding consultant) is former dancer and current writer, performance artist.

Ross hosted gloriously exploratory art parties in their studio. Justin found the gallery space and dreamt big. Gray performed there one day and put her OCD to good use, and the rest is history.

We’re starting small and dreaming big. Already in our first year, Foundry Nights has grown from some friends throwing an art party to a fully-curated, residency-based, (nearly) sustainable community asset. This is where we are now, with expansion of capacity, artist resources and programming upon the horizon.

We are currently accepting proposals for the next round of Foundry Nights. Be an over-the-transom artist, or apply for an awesomely generous residency or artist matchmaker program.

Residencies include:

  • *Unlimited* (well, near enough) rehearsal hours over the course of eight weeks
  • *Free* artistic and technical consultation with our in-house curators and engineers
  • *Flexible* performance parameters: length up to multi-hour, location: stage/sky/ground/dungeon, medium: test us!
  • *Free* raw materials, as available
  • *Free* & *TOP-CLASS* drinks at the show (after admission)
  • *Unparalleled* retro-chic industrial performance venue
  • *Large, enthusiastic and participatory* audience of 100+
  • *Continuous* dance party from show’s end until the last guest leaves!

Our next FN incarnation, Foundry Nights VII, will be upon us Saturday, November 10 (and FN-VIII in February 2013) – dozens of artists, palate pleasers and a take-no-prisoners art experience.
To reach Foundry Nights: website:

It has been a treat to attend a variety of these ‘arty party’ events and I look forward to seeing these groups grow their programs. I moved to Berkeley in April 2011, and so I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of the numerous East Bay artist groups, makers, movers and shakers.  I share the impulse to independently curate and collaboratively produce meeting places for creative connections.

Brittany Delany loves to research, practice and perform hip hop dance and modern dance. She works as a dancer, choreographer, writer, arts administrator and editor. See: