All good things come to an end

All good things come to an end. And in this case, GREAT things. After 10 beautiful, magical, amazing, and at times nail-biting years, the doors of Hope Stone Studio have closed. It has been a space of art. A place where wonderful classes were held, and the most terrific students (both young and old!) of dance and other movement forms showed up to learn, move, mingle, become a community. I have overflowing gratitude for all the support and energy and belief in us for these ten years.

As of today, May 31, 2014, operation of our dance studio, which includes the adult and children’s classes, has ceased. Our home-based children’s arts outreach Hope Stone Kids has ceased. HopeWerks, our program offering emerging artists a three-month space grant has ceased, and h.s.d. II, our new pre-professional dance company for teens, has ceased. Our incredible administrative staff is moving on to other employment, and our professional dance company Hope Stone Dance will cease.

What will go on is undetermined. I feel confident that I will push forth with Hope Stone Kids arts education classes in several satellite schools, because the product of art education is everything we want for our children. I want to continue to with this vision, to create an even stronger template that will solidify the worth of this powerful teaching form. But beyond that is a big black hole. A huge space that is inviting me to look for a new way, a different way, a new model. A sustainable model. A model that does not require constant proving that the project has value, but one in which we partner with groups that value the worth of art/art education and want to support its success. A model in which the staff is paid a competitive wage — and by “staff”, I mean administrative, teaching, and artistic. A model in which each month is not a game of “creative financing” to pay bills.

The model has always had its challenges. In a not-for profit environment that has become fiercely competitive, the pressure of fundraising has ballooned to a larger and larger effort each year. Sadly, the arts are not the top priority for many Houston funders. Art is a product that does not easily sell – this is a heart-wrenching reality, and one we must address. 2013-14 was our most successful year, and sadly it still wasn’t enough to sustain Hope Stone. We must also recognize there is an “eco-system” to the arts organizations. Great art is not always determined by the number of people who saw it, or the size of the venue. The idea that bigger is better is not always the truth in quality art, and successful mid-sized arts organizations or often unable to keep up and sustain the demands placed on them.

It is also a time for awareness and delving — a chance to look inside, outside, and all around for new answers, new pathways, new ideas. A time to state loud and proud that we don’t do work for free because we will get “good exposure” or because “we love what we do.“ Yes, a career in art is a lot more then a “hobby.” But in a hostile world driven by metrics and money, the worth of art and art education is lost because it difficult to measure and even major arts groups and organizations lack the resources to effectively quantify the power of art.

I realized Hope Stone was on a hamster wheel, and with the impending loss of our lease, I became fully aware I was not solving anything, merely jumping on a larger hamster wheel that would have taken more craft and energy to run, more skilled creative financing, and most likely longer hours resulting in the same stresses…only larger. In the words of George Jetson, “Jane, stop this crazy thing.”

So, I arrived at the conclusion that we should take a step back and dramatically reduce our expenses and our programming to operate within our means: take the time to regroup and create a new business plan for this organization, learning from what has and has not worked, and what we have learned about the environment in which we operate.

May 31, 2014 is the final day of our lease, and I have ceased looking for a new location (after more than a year of doing so). Hope Stone, Inc. will move back to my home office, allowing me to regroup and reduce overhead. Essentially, I am right-sizing Hope Stone. It is not about being big, but rather doing what is essential, fulfilling our mission, and taking a long hard look at what Hope Stone, Inc. is, and if it is possible to become a fiscally viable entity in the future. I look at the coming year as a time for these four essential steps:

  1. Right-size the business
  2. Reduce overhead by closing Hope Stone Studio
  3. Refocus on the programs that make the greatest impact
  4. Deploy our resources in the most cost-effective way possible

This is not an easy step, and I do not take it lightly. I feel it is the right thing for the organization.

I use this prayer as a strong guide to my next steps:
God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change; 

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

I hope these words will help me grow a new, strong, more viable business model.

In service and gratitude,

A letter of Gratitude

There are few organizations that truly live their mission in its totality. However, I can say with confidence that Hope Stone does. Their vision of “Art for ALL” drives every decision that they make. And as they close their doors at the end of this month after 10 years of serving the community, I wish for them to know the profound impact that they have had on not just my family, but so many communities throughout Texas and Louisiana. To do this, I will start with a little bit of our story.

On March 9, 2007, we were blessed to become the parents of a beautiful 5 year old little girl with special needs from Sierra Leone. Our medical social worker referred us to Hope Stone when we contacted her to inquire about extracurricular activities that might be beneficial for her. And that marked the beginning of our family’s seven amazing years with Hope Stone.

Through movement and music, Hope Stone gave my daughter a means of communication when her inability to speak English made verbal communication with others nearly impossible.

Through theater and improv, Hope Stone gave my daughter a healthy outlet for her emotions when she was teased for being a dark skinned girl in a world that prefers the opposite, or when she faced social stigma as a result of her diagnosis, or when she had to cope with various difficulties.

Through drumming, Hope Stone gave my daughter a way to celebrate her heritage and a way to connect positively with others.

Through dance, Hope Stone gave my daughter a way to remain active even when juvenile arthritis and asthma robbed her of the ability to physically participate in other activities she’d previously enjoyed.

Through service projects and community service, Hope Stone gave my daughter a way to “give back” to others and to develop leadership skills.

Through outreach activities such as Hope Stone’s Commemorative World AIDS Day Labyrinth, breast cancer awareness, satellite campuses providing services to the homeless, to special needs populations, to impoverished youth and adults throughout Houston, Katy, the Rio Grande Valley, to Katrina evacuees in New Orleans, and much, much more, Hope Stone gave my daughter a sense of the diverse ways one can advocate–that in its various forms, art, for example, can be a force for social change.

And aside from my daughter, as my family has grown, we have all benefitted from being a part of Hope Stone. We have been blessed to participate in activities such a multigenerational music classes that allowed my entire family, from mom, grandma, and toddlers, to participate to performances as a country club to a concert and “meet and greet” with internationally acclaimed musician Josh Groban…all because of Hope Stone.

In addition to my daughter, Hope Stone has welcomed the rest of my family. And as a large, autistic, HIV affected, neurodiverse family, we can honestly say that Hope Stone has always been accommodating and accepting of us. If someone needed a few stim breaks to make it through the class, Hope Stone basically said, “stim on.” If an individual had difficulty with instructions due to an intellectual disability or auditory processing issues, they offered support and extra time to go over the material.

Hope Stone’s founder and executive director, Jane Weiner, and her amazing staff literally know every child and adult in all of the programs by name. They have cultivated a true community that mirrors the world in terms of its ethnic, racial, age, religious, socioeconomic, ability, gender, sexual orientation, and lifestyle diversity. Everyone is welcome when they walk through the doors of Hope Center. It is a family. And the depth and quality of the programming and instruction that is given is outstanding. It’s more than just the art itself that one is taught, but the philosophy and significance of it as well.

On a shoestring budget, Hope Stone has made the impossible happen for over a decade. They have done so much more than what I’ve shared. They have provided mentoring and artistic work space for emerging artists, they have maintained a professional and pre-professional dance company, they have nurtured artist and supported local, statewide, and national programs. They are truly a unique entity. They will be profoundly missed.

I urge you to visit their website and learn more about this phenomenal organization whose sunset is upon us. Do you want to know what inclusion and acceptance looks like? You can take some notes from Hope Stone. Art for All now and always!

Morénike Onaiwu is the Founder of Advocacy Without Borders and the Co-Chair of the Global Community Advisory Board for the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG).

Tea Time

“Let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”- Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground

Thanks to everyone who came out to join our Sunday Tea sessions over the last six weeks, and well done on taking time out for your mental and physical health. Janice and Barrett, parents of one of our Hope Stone Kids here in Houston, had this to say about the final session (a Restorative Yoga class):

Barrett: We thought it would be a good opportunity to do something active together. I have a little experience from doing yoga with the kids when they were little (and if you want to feel intimidated, do yoga alongside a six-year-old partner who could touch her feet to her head bending in either direction). The program was challenging and fun, and we enjoyed getting to visit over tea after we were finished. It was a really good way to spend a bit of Sunday afternoon.

Janice: The restorative session was relaxing and enjoyable, yet still a workout, and I appreciated Mary’s patience with me as both a greenhorn and one with a few (temporary?!) physical limitations. I did enjoy the aprés-yoga teatime with the others, as well as the tea selection. I definitely think this series could be inspiring to one’s art as well as an additional aid in getting through this often chaotic life.

The Sunday Tea series has finished, but you can take a time-out for your health and inspiration every week at Hope Stone Studio. Beginners and pros are welcome to take yoga, ballet, and modern dance classes, and V-barre, a fusion workout incorporating elements of ballet, pilates, and resistance training. Check out our schedule and class descriptions here.

Getting to Know You: Kelsey Kincaid

Welcome to the second installment in our Getting to Know You series! This week, meet #hopestonedance performer Kelsey Kincaid. Kelsey’s responses made me giggle as I read them, particularly in how different they were to some of the other company members’ responses (some of which I have included). So let’s turn our eyes to the company member who somehow manages to be sometimes deep, sometimes hilarious, all the time a standout.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

…Jackie: being present…Shohei: being a dancer… Kelsey: Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, fried okra, mac n cheese, a buttered roll, and pecan pie.

What is your greatest fear?

Candace: letting my family down….Kelsey: Missing a moment.

Which historical figure do you identify with?

Kelsey: Kim Possible.…Amaris: Balanchine…

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Kelsey: My pride.

On what occasion do you lie?

Kelsey: When others’ feelings are involved.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Kelsey: “But, um…”

What is your greatest regret?
Jane: not doing the last DEDCo three-week run…Courtney: not auditioning for Juilliard…
Kelsey: That one time I didn’t get dessert.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Kelsey: That I would have an accent. Preferably Irish.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

Kelsey: A lion. They’re so hardcore and they get to nap all day.

But there’s no rest for the wicked yet. Watch Kelsey stand out at i was told there would be cake, showing THIS WEEK! Tickets and more info here.

aussie amy teaches theater at #hopestonekids and can’t wait to see if kelsey dances like a lion.

Blog on a Sunday

It has been a strange time…this most recent creation time. The bringing back of two older pieces: in situ, an all women’s piece created when my brother went off to Afghanistan, and called back, a trio I created for the lovely talents of Courtney Jones, Alonzo Moore, and Candace Rattliff for the Urban Souls Black History performance last February. called back is based loosely on Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking.

And then, in the midst of some major medical issues for my mother (she and my father are new transplants to Houston), I started on two new works. A men’s piece, fandango, using “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the inspirations of Queen and especially Freddie Mercury created with their 1975 classic of classics! And another piece, boat, boat, helicopter, that seems to stem from days — and nights — in the hospital.

I look at my title, i was told there would be cake, and wonder if it is more in line with the cult video game Portal, and that actually the cake is a lie. A year ago as I planned this evening, all this LIFE was not even imagined, or thought possible. Aging parents, the loss of several friends unexpectedly, the trials of each day, mixed in with joy and beauty. So as I step into my last week of rehearsal and the need to finish these two new works, and massage and shine my two older repertory pieces, I do wonder if in fact, “the cake is a lie?”

Jane Weiner is the Artistic Director of Hope Stone Dance Company, and the Founding President & CEO of Hope Stone, Inc.

Getting to Know You: Courtney D. Jones

Courtney Jones

Or, as A Chorus Line puts it, “who am I anyway? Am I my resume?”

We wanted our audience and community to get to know our Hope Stone Dance Company members a little better, so President Jane took some time out of rehearsal recently to put some questions* to our dancers so we could do just that!

*stolen shamelessly from Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire

Meet: Courtney D. Jones. In 2012, Courtney was named as one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”. And believe me, we’ve been watching her! As well as dancing with Hope Stone and working her butt off at various choreography and teaching projects, Courtney has appeared on stage at Stages Repertory Theatre, Theater Under the Stars and Houston Grand Opera. You can watch her, too: in a couple of weeks, performing in Hope Stone Dance Company’s i was told there would be cake.

When and where were you happiest? I’m one of those people who really enjoyed being a student. Johnston Middle School, High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and SUNY Purchase, thank you all.

What is your greatest fear? Unemployment.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I could list so many, but I’d rather say, “I’m good with me right now.”

What is the trait you most deplore in others? A lack of empathy.

On what occasion do you lie? I’m not a very good liar – you can see it on my face – so I just put myself in time-outs!

What is your greatest regret? Talking myself out of auditioning for Juilliard because I thought I sucked. SUNY Purchase is ABSOLUTELY where I was supposed to go but I hate the fact that I let doubt win.

Which talent would you most like to have? The talent that brings me free time.

What is your current state of mind? Lately I’m really excited about life but really worried about being an artist.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would handle stress better.Courtney Jones

Where would you like to live? Still trying to figure that out. Lots of places I’d love to visit but not sure about living.

What is your favorite occupation? Working artists.

What is your most marked characteristic? People always think I’m strong. Silly people.

What is the quality you most like in a human? Humor.

Who are your favorite writers? Toni Morrison, Paulo Ceolho, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, among others.

How would you like to die? I’d like to die with no regret.

What is your motto? “Why not?”

Thanks Courtney for sharing with us! You can buy tickets to see her and all the Hope Stone dancers in i was told there would be cake (#hsdcake). Tickets on sale here.

From New Guy to Head Honcho

Hopewerks - William vonReichbauer Photography: Amy Smith

How do you go from being an ensemble member to being the guy who creates and runs the show?

Musician William vonReichbauer had a great job in North Carolina’s Open Dream Ensemble, touring high-quality musical theatre shows to schools. When he left it to move to Houston only last year, he knew that the next step for him was to create and produce his own works in the same genre. So he applied for a HopeWerks space grant to do just that. And in the short time he’s been here, he’s also managed to ally himself with a few of Houston’s finest artists, including Jhon Stronks of There…In the Sunlight, Maggie Lasher of China Cat Dance, and Ashley Horn (both ladies were named in Houston Press’ Top 100 Creatives of 2013). He also collaborates — in art as in life — with his fiancee, Rice University Director of Dance Heather Nabors.

And braving the terrifying vulnerability of performing his own work, William has risen to the challenge as the recipient of the second HopeWerks residency for the year. The Girl Who Sang with Her Feet is the result: a multi-disciplinary show for all ages, including music, theatre, dance, and puppetry. And you can catch it for the first time ever at Hope Stone Studio next week!

The Girl Who Sang With Her Feet
March 28 & 29, 7:30pm
Hope Stone Studio: 1210 W. Clay (entrance across from 1111 Van Buren Street)
Featuring William vonReichbauer, Ashley Horn, Jhon Stronks, and Maggie Lasher
Additional choreography and direction by Heather Nabors
$5 cash at the door

Sunday Tea

You are hereby cordially invited to Sunday Tea.

Path of Tea logo

Over a series of six Sundays, Hope Stone Studio is holding an afternoon class in a discipline you may not have tried before, followed by tea provided by The Path of Tea. Join us this week for Capoeira, an exciting Brazilian art form that is part fight, part dance, part game.

Hope Stone Studio regular Yvonne Reynosa joined us last Sunday for Yamuna class. Yvonne is a native Houstonian who started coming to ballet classes when the ballet studio she was used to attending moved, and also took a few Yamuna classes. When she saw that she could take Yamuna class followed by tea, she thought “how enchanting!” She said she couldn’t believe how Yamuna (a technique of rolling balls of various size and pressure across your body like a massage) makes her feel. And in a few weeks she will be back for Sunday Tea to try Yamuna Face Ball for the first time.

So come try Capoeira, African Dance, or Restorative Yoga, and follow it up with some post-class tea! All our teachers make their classes accessible for beginners or experts. Come and experience the Hope Stone environment – like Yvonne, you may just be “enchanted”!

Click the teacup photo for schedule and registration!

green tea

Just One Reason Why It Matters

Photography: Jeff Fitlow
Hope Stone Kids perform at Hope Stone’s 2014 Country Fried Breakfast for Dinner Gala

This last week at Hope Stone has been an absolute storm of productivity.  Not only did we have no fewer than seven performances of say please and thank you, we also held our annual Breakfast for Dinner Gala, themed “Country Fried Breakfast for Dinner”.  Thank you to all the performers, speakers, and volunteers, and a huge “(cowboy) hats off!” to our donors.  Thanks to you, we raised more than $125,000 for Hope Stone programs! Wow!!! I’d like to share a story with you that highlights why we need that money.

Something very fortuitous happened a few months ago in the Thursday Hope Stone Kids III class.  A teacher was not at a class, and so President Jane gave the kids that time to free-write their thoughts about “knit”, the theme of our upcoming show.  And most of them took the brave step of letting me read them.

There were various responses to the theme.  Some kids wrote about literal knitting. Some only gave a cursory glance at the “knit” theme before moving on to complaints about their siblings.  A very prevalent idea among all of them was the idea of a pattern.  Of knitting your life together in a predictable, stable, knowable pattern.  These teenagers, quite a few of them standing on the edge of adulthood, are terrified of what comes next.  I was crying as I read their existential angst handwritten on blank sheets of printer paper.  They are aware enough to have the knowledge hanging over their heads that their decisions can carry lifelong consequences, but not feeling strong or informed enough to be able to make those choices.  I say the word “college” in class and there’s a groan from our juniors and seniors.  They’re definitely feeling the pressure of that decision.

So our theater piece in the upcoming show (only eight weeks away!) is looking generally at the idea of life as a pattern, and specifically at a character who’s trying to apply for college, and finding it hard.  My hope is that these kids will feel empowered, inspired and definitely not alone in their quest to forge a life for themselves that makes some sense…and makes them happy.

These all-too-fragile kids are the backbone of the Hope community, and why we work so hard to fund this program.  So thank you parents for involving us in the work of raising these wonderful individuals, thank you kids for being brave and sharing your lives with us, and thank you donors for allowing this to happen.

aussie amy teaches theater to hsk iii and is learning how to knit (metaphorically only).

The Things We Say to Our Children

As I watched the Hope Stone Dance Company rehearse say please and thank you last week, I couldn’t get over how much talking there was in the studio. All through the piece the dancers were speaking to one another, making each other grin and laugh with dance as well as words. They cheered each other on; sometimes they cheered themselves on. They called out reminders about timing and placement; they laughed in relief at the end of difficult sections. Jane commented throughout the piece on what she saw, sometimes in sheer surprise. At one point dancer Cata asks a few other dancers to “mind her pants”. They were all saying to each other: You are my teammate. We can do this. This is joy.
please and thank you
But they were speaking to me too. For one thing, I was struck again by how egalitarian the modern dance world is. People of different races, heights, national origins, fashion preferences, and genders were working together with utter trust. The only requirement of anyone’s body was that it had the strength and stamina to commit to the demanding choreography. And as the piece moved through hilarity to focus to play, it found a deep place in me, and moved me almost to tears. It said to me: You are human. We are connected. This is joy. This is a truly special performance.please and thank you

So I say to you: please don’t miss say please and thank you at the Hobby Center, February 28th at 7:30pm. It is designed for children “with adults in mind” – please free to bring your child, or just your inner child, and let this art speak to them too. Get your tickets here.

aussie amy teaches theater to hsk iii, and was definitely taught to say thank you.