Community leaders come to rescue of St. Petersburg dance academy

ST. PETERSBURG — Soulful Arts Dance Academy will live to see another month — and maybe more.

Community leaders stepped up with help during a heated 21/2-hour town hall meeting Thursday at the struggling nonprofit dance studio. The St. Petersburg school, which had gone into dormancy, will reopen Oct. 19 and remain open for a month.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who came to the meeting with his wife Angela and children, has offered $20,000 to pay expenses during that time — some from his own pocket, the rest raised from other donors, including a lump $15,000 donation from a local businessman who is a Lakewood High graduate, Rouson said.

"I will have $20,000 to you tomorrow," he told the room of about 50 parents and children.

Soulful Arts' board of directors will also work with St. Petersburg College to develop a partnership. Deveron Gibbons, a recent mayoral candidate who is a local businessman and SPC board member, donated $1,000 of his own money and also suggested to college president Carl Kuttler that the institution help.

"We have a College for Kids program, we have a bus, we have a number of things we can offer," said Susan Reiter, SPC's vice president for facilities planning and institutional services, who came to the meeting.

Since 2003, Soulful Arts has trained kids from all economic and ethnic backgrounds. This year, enrollment was at 142 students — 94 paying the $50 per class tuition, 48 receiving scholarships. Soulful Arts had a deficit of about $20,000 when it went into dormancy.

"In a nutshell, we need cash," said board president Antonio Chase. "It's really just that plain and simple."

Thursday night, some parents were hurt and angry, pushing for solutions instead of dwelling on past mistakes. They warned that if the board didn't act quickly and accept the help being offered, students would flee to other dance studios. Some teen students stood up, tears streaming down their faces.

The board went into a private meeting with Gibbons, Reiter and Rouson and worked out a plan. Going forward, they'll decide how to fill staffing, including the role of artistic director Paulette Walker Johnson, who was let go last week.

Outside the room, oblivious to the meeting, toddlers danced.

Community leaders come to rescue of St. Petersburg dance academy 10/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 9, 2009 8:39am]

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