Long before the Starbucks and Target opened in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, the GALA Hispanic Theatre had their sights set on the neighborhood. Throughout their nearly 30 year history, their bilingual plays and programs served the Columbia Heights community, however, they were forced to shuffle from place to place without a permanent home. Then in 2005, after a several year capital campaign, the GALA Hispanic Theatre opened in their new home, the former and decades vacant Tivoli Theatre at the corner of 14th St and Park Rd. NW, right in the heart of Columbia Heights.
As a longtime investor in nonprofits serving Columbia Heights, LISC supported GALA in its very early stages, providing a $30,000 grant to cover fees associated with their capital campaign. In 2005 we provided additional operating grant support as they settled into their new space. Then in 2006 we provided working capital to help bridge incoming pledges and some interest write- down grant dollars.
Now operating consistently in the neighborhood for nearly 5 years, GALA has already had a tremendous impact on the surrounding community. “The theatre has given people a destination and something to do in the neighborhood. We keep activity going, there is 4 foot traffic on the streets in the evenings,” says Rebecca Read-Medrano, co founder and Executive Director. Restaurants close to the Theatre notice a 20% increase in sales most nights that GALA has a show.
The community, including both longtime and newer residents, has embraced the theatre. “I think there is tremendous satisfaction knowing that there is a performing facility in the neighborhood” says Read- Medrano. The first Thursday run of each show is available to the community for just $10. “Our audience has gotten a lot younger. We are seeing younger, hip people come through our doors.” This means that they have continued with their diverse programming, including a flamenco dance festival, drag cabaret and large musical productions.
They also have programming for neighborhood youth, (pictured to the left) from “Galitas” which are bilingual theatre shows for very young children, to matinee shows for local elementary schools, to programming for older youth. This past summer 15 teenaged youth took part in GALA’s summer program and learned drumming, stage fighting, a variety of music genres, mask making, tango dance and were educated about issues affecting people in other countries. “Some of the kids come from bad home situations and just love it here. Some have made it their home.”
GALA has also been impacted by the downturn in the market. “We have seen a lot of hard times before” says Read- Medrano, “but today, people are holding on to what they have. We saw drops in attendance and had to drop ticket prices, and make offers that we’ve never made before.”
Though people are still attending shows, “everyone wants a deal. We have fewer pre sales and subscription sales. There is more spontaneous buying which is a nerve wracking place to be because you never know what to expect any given night,” she explained.
To adjust to these behavioral and economic changes, GALA’s board has set aside a number of reserve accounts. Though times have been more difficult than Read – Medrano can remember, she insists “we will not sacrifice program quality or artistic risk”. They are also reaching new residents by giving subscriptions to GALA when someone purchases a condominium.
Coming up in November, GALA will host their 5th annual Flamenco Festival (pictured above), one of their most popular offerings. For three weeks GALA will showcase different forms of flamenco, and provide workshops on guitar, castanets, and fans for children.