Lula Washington has choreographed some pretty fancy footwork in her career, but efforts to continue her business after it was devastated by the recent earthquake have required all the creative energy she can muster.
"It's been pretty crazy," Washington said. "I've had to get through a lot of red tape. But at least now I know I can get funds to rebuild."
Washington's L.A. Contemporary Dance Theatre, in an industrial-style building at 5179 W. Adams Blvd. near La Brea Avenue, was one of hundreds of businesses that sustained damage in the Jan. 17 quake. After a month of appealing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for aid--she was initially turned down--Washington said she is now assured of grant money once FEMA officials assess the damage.
Washington said disaster relief officials consider arts organizations "nonessential." Her battle to qualify for a FEMA grant drove her to enlist the help of Councilman Nate Holden, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) and others not involved in the arts, who vouched for the studio's importance to the community.
"Lula's not only an arts institution in the community, she runs a viable business that people benefit from in a lot of ways," said Moore spokeswoman Joy Atkinson, who cited Washington's theater as crucial to an after-school arts program recently launched by Moore's office. "The types of programs she runs are absolutely essential to the growth of the community."
The theater, owned by Washington and her husband, Irwin, occupies two floors of studio and performance space in the West Adams Boulevard building. The 14-year-old nonprofit theater houses low-cost dance and tumbling classes for youth, as well as a professional troupe that tours nationally.
But everything came to a halt when the magnitude 6.8 temblor shifted the studio roof, knocked out a back supporting wall and damaged several other walls. City inspectors red-tagged the property and classes had to be suspended. Washington is awaiting results of a stress test that will determine if the studio can be salvaged or whether it must be razed.
With virtually no emergency or reserve funds, the Washingtons began hunting for a building that could donate rehearsal space. The search proved exhaustive but yielded three sites: the Colburn School of Performing Arts on Figueroa Street, the Los Angeles Theatre Centre in Downtown and the Crossroads School in Santa Monica. Touring company rehearsals and youth classes have resumed.
Washington said FEMA has agreed to cover 90% of rebuilding costs, which could exceed $200,000. She said she is prepared to roll up her sleeves to raise the balance of the money.
"I want to stay right here in the community," she added. "People have told me: 'This is the perfect chance to relocate in Culver City or Santa Monica.' But the greatest need is right here."