Did You Know? Studio Grand

By In Dance


Did You Know? Studio Grand

Oakland’s Studio Grand is a nonprofit, multi-use space that supports local families, youth, and emerging and established artists by hosting a mix of music, performance, educational, and visual art classes and events. Interim Creative and Administrative Director Nkeiruka Oruche tells us more about her work with the Studio.

How and when did Studio Grand get started?

Studio Grand was founded by Holly Schneider and opened its doors in September 2013. Holly’s vision was to create a multidisciplinary, intergenerational, and cross-cultural art space in the Grand Lake neighborhood that responded to a need Oakland has. Eight months after its opening, we lost Holly to an untimely battle with cancer. After her passing, her friend and bandmate in Las Bomberas de la Bahia, Vanessa Camarena-Arredondo, worked with a dedicated group of family members and volunteers to keep Studio Grand going. In 2017, Vanessa transitioned from her role, and I joined Studio Grand to lead it into its next vision.

How are you involved with the organization?

As the Interim Creative and Administrative Director, I handle organizational development, artistic direction/engagement, fundraising and relationships/partnerships. I also work as director of Afro Urban Society, a hub for Afro diaspora art, culture and people, and also a resident organization at Studio Grand (a new structure Studio Grand is currently trying). Since my art practice is mostly as a choreographer and performer, the studio is getting a surge of interest from dance artists, but I am currently working to expand the visual, literary and theater presentations as well.

Many people gathered in a circle in Studio Grand.
Photo by Jean Meiesaine

Through Afro Urban Society and my personal and professional connections, I am able to bring African, African-American/Diaspora, and Arab Diaspora (Yemeni) connections into the space. Through my work with BoomShake Music, a socially-engaged drum school and community, I am able to connect with a wide range of womxn, trans and gender-non conforming folks from many backgrounds who are actively engaged in music as a tool for social justice.

Through my mentors, leaders, and teachers Regina ‘Califa’ Calloway, Monica Hastings-Smith, Amara Tabor-Smith and Ellen Sebastian Chang, I am reminded that Studio Grand needs to be a space that honors and recognizes legacy while ushering and fostering the coming generations.

Describe the activities and programs.

Studio Grand’s programming centers leadership of and programming on historically marginalized communities including people of color, immigrant, and LGBTQAA communities. We understand that Oakland is a rapidly gentrifying city with a rich legacy of music and art produced by Black, Latinx, immigrant, and queer communities. We operate with the understanding of the urgency and necessity of communities of color to create work and tell their stories, especially in a volatile political environment in which our communities are under attack.

We host an artists’ residency where we invite a visual or performing artist to develop a body of work in the studio over a period of time. Most recently, we hosted theater artist Sarita Ocón, who developed a theater lab with 12 local emerging artists titled Las Hociconas. We host a variety of dance classes by independent instructors such as Ballet for Black and Brown Bodies as well as classes curated by Afro Urban Society for people of the African Diaspora. We host an avant garde music series curated by the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society on Monday nights; Bay Area Bridges, a series curated by RDL+ that profiles contemporary composers on 2nd Sundays; an electronic music series curated by KYN on 2nd Saturdays; and a Balkan series on 2nd Fridays. We also host ongoing classes for kids.

How many artists does the space engage with?

There are at least 30 artists who are actively curating, teaching, and performing at Studio Grand on an ongoing basis. Additionally, we host at least 50 guests artists each month.

Do you have a favorite performance or memorable moment with the organization?

Through a partnership with Afro Urban Society, we recently presented Full Color: A Staged Reading by emerging writer Itoro Udofia, directed by the phenomenal Tossie Long. Studio Grand served as a home for the rehearsals, the performance and a talk back. The cast featured both seasoned and amatuer performers, so the show drew a really mixed audience, making the space so sweet and special. I sat reflecting on the promise of continuing to hold such space and make art right there on Grand Avenue in Oakland. It makes me proud and inspires me to do this work. Also in May, we presented Under the Oakland Skies, an outdoor music concert at Lake Merritt Amphitheater featuring local bands Little Debbie and the Crusaders, The Jamming Nachos, and JAX. I had tears in my eyes multiple times watching Oakland-grown young folks be powerful and dynamic. Both of the events really made me realize the range of beauty we can harness as an institution.

What programs or activities do you have coming up?

We are launching/announcing three new residency programs: 1) ‘Odinani/It is in the Land/Tenets of Humanity’ for Oakland/East Bay-based immigrants artists of color across disciplines to create work that explores how a specific guiding principle is expressed in their ancestral culture; 2) ‘Move | Stay | Be | Here’ for Black and Brown music and movement artists who explore traditional or experimental forms; and 3) ‘Unearthing Particles’ for Black and Brown traditional, contemporary, or experimental visual, literary, digital and new media artists who create work that honors/explores the experience of Black and Brown people.

We have our ongoing music series mentioned above as well as ongoing dance classes during the week. Workshops, performances, and exhibitions connected with the residencies will be announced.

Group dance being lead by a smiling dancer leaning to her right.
Photo by Jean Meiesaine

What has been the most rewarding part of your work?

Having the opportunity to not only be a part of the conversations in the art and culture bureaucracy but to also shift current perspective, approaches, and practice are things that give me lots of points for reflection. I appreciate the opportunity to be put under question, scrutiny and criticism in a way that’s different than being just an artist/culture worker. I don’t get to just hide out in my comfort zone; I have to step out and be responsible and responsive in a way that is very scary but necessary, e.g. doing interviews like this. I get to put my values and work practice to the test because I am dealing with so many different levels of the artistic and bureaucratic process as Creative and Administrative director of an actual physical venue that produces its own events, and is committed to working with ‘not just the highest bidders’. I get to answer hard questions like: ‘Can I pay the bills, run a successful business and still be accessible to people who deserve for this space to exist? Can I balance the administrative and networking duties of the executive branch while also being a regular friend and community member who can truly stay connected to folks who may not be on the art world radar?

What’s a future goal or dream that you have for Studio Grand?

I dream that Studio Grand will be a space that holds both socially-engaged traditional and imaginative art and culture from local and international artists. I am curious what conversations would look like across diversity of Black and Brown (Native American, Desi, Pacific Islander, Arab/Mena, African and African American/Diasporic etc). I want the residency program to put us to task to not only have artists find us, but have us seek out folks who are sidelined by the local and mainstream art establishments. I want Studio Grand to feel like a home to our native and long-time Oakland communities and mitigate the lack of access to creative spaces for them.

What (or who) is inspiring you right now?

My creative partner Tossie Long (a vocalist and multi skilled performer) is a major force of inspiration. Tossie is able to make things dynamic out of not much, and is able to see and translate me in ways that are just inexplicable. She and I have a soul mate connection that I just can’t explain, and I’m moved by her daily in ways I wouldn’t even be able to talk about on this platform.

What’s a piece of advice have you been given that you still hold on to today?

Go, just go, and don’t come back until you’ve finished what you went for.

What haven’t we asked that you want people to know?

Studio Grand is a space very much concerned with community needs. We curate and present quality work. It is also our intention to be an accessible space that has a warm and welcoming vibe. We are primarily a volunteer and artist-run space, and our programming is only possible through individual donations (monetary and in-kind), foundation grants and government support. We’d love to be able to offer our hardworking staff a good salary and keep the lights on, and we can’t do it without the support of generous folks in the community.

This article appeared in the July/August 2018 edition of In Dance.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.