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Dwyer Cultural Center to Cut Back on Programming

By Jeff Mays | May 9, 2012 4:15pm
The Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem will be limiting its programming for six months to a year while it reorganizes.
The Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem will be limiting its programming for six months to a year while it reorganizes.
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Harlem BeSpoke

HARLEM — The Dwyer Cultural Center plans to severely cut back on its hours of operation and its programming for up to a year while it undergoes a financial and organizational overhaul — the latest Harlem arts center that has struggled in recent years, DNAinfo has learned.

Rumors were rampant that the financially-beleaguered center would be closing its doors for good in June — but one of the center's managing directors said the center would stay open with significant changes.

"We are not closing. What is happening is we are cutting down our hours through the end of June and then we are in a restructuring period," said Ademola Olugebefola, vice president of the nonprofit community group the International Communications Association, which runs the center in conjunction with Community Works.

According to Olugebefola, the organization is planning to cut down on "the volume of public programming" while it expands the board and looks for new funding sources.

"We have been funding the operations of this institution for the last 3 1/2 years without funding from any sources," said Olugebefola. "We have reached a point where we can't do it anymore."

Several other cultural institutions are struggling in the neighborhood including the National Black Theatre, which faced foreclosure due to almost $2 million in unpaid taxes, and the Dance Theater of Harlem, which shuttered in 2004, but was revived in February. The Harlem School of the Arts reopened after receiving an infusion of cash.

The 7,000 square foot, $3 million center at 123rd Street between St. Nicholas Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard opened in 2009 with the goal of presenting and preserving Harlem's rich cultural history while supporting artists.

Community Works provided a variety of artistic programming ranging from art exhibitions, musical performances, film and workshops for youth and adults. Many of the events are free or of low cost to the public.

The center also rented out its space for events, which was handled by International Communications Association.

The Dwyer Cultural Center occupies a portion of the basement and first floor of the Dwyer Warehouse, a massive complex that also houses residential condominiums on the floors above as well as a first-floor retail space.

It owns the space under an agreement with the city that stipulated that any future development of the formerly-abandoned warehouse include free space for a non-profit institution.

However, Olugebefola said funding the operation of the center is still difficult because of the price of maintaining a staff and paying for utilities.

"That staff costs us money and the electricity, and you have telephone and Internet and the same costs as any business," said Olugebefola.

The reorganization of the board and increased fundraising efforts are designed to raise enough money to support the operation of the venue.

When the center reopens full time, there may be more of a focus on media training and development, he said.

Barbara Horowitz, co-director of the Dwyer Cultural Center and president of Community Works did not return repeated calls for comment. A representative also declined comment and referred questions to the Dwyer Cultural Center.

Local artists were saddened to hear the news. They said the Dwyer was an important part of preserving the history and culture of art in Harlem while nurturing developing artists and allowing for networking.

"It will be a loss for the local artist because they allow so many of us to show our work there," said Lynn Lieberman, a painter whose work appeared in a show at the Dwyer named "Spirit of Harlem."