Carla Perlo is twirling a ribbon and dancing around a formerly vacant alley off 8th and Kearny Streets NE. Right off the sidewalk, one of those flailing inflatable tube men flaps over itself in the wind. A steady stream of local officials, artists, and community residents are filing into the alley and a ground level dance studio in the Brookland Artspace Lofts, to celebrate the groundbreaking of what will officially be known as the 8th Street Arts Park.

The studio, and the future park, are managed by Dance Place, the long-running dance studio and school that operates across the alley from the Arts Loft at 3225 8th St. NE. For more than 30 years, the Brookland dance studio has offered classes for all styles and ages, as well as a popular camp every summer. Perlo, Dance Place’s founding director, and her colleagues hope that the park will be a natural extension of their organization’s artistic and community programming.

On Thursday, the Dance Place team, which includes a large group of volunteers, friends, and artists, used the groundbreaking as the first symbolic step to transform the slab of asphalt next to their studios into a vibrant public space. According to a press release, the park will include “colorful surfacing, a convertible outdoor stage, and five public arts commissions by local artists,” a turtle-shaped sprinkler for campers and neighborhood kids to play in, as well as a bike rack and bicycle repair station.

Even on a blustery, grey day, the mood at the groundbreaking last Thursday was joyous and exciting, and rightfully so: for Perlo and Dance Place, the park is a result of decades of creative thinking and community involvement.

“This is a very special moment for us and for me personally,” Perlo said at the beginning of the groundbreaking ceremony. “This is the final piece of the puzzle, a long time in the making.” During her remarks, Perlo gave a concise and impassioned account of Dance Place’s history in the neighborhood, where they’ve operated since moving from Adams Morgan in 1986. “For 35 years we’ve been helping artists and young people reach their full potential,” she said.

The Arts Park organizers and planners are shooting for a “soft opening” in late June, before the start of their annual summer camp. A ribbon cutting and official opening is slated for September. Once construction is complete, the park will be open to the public from about 4 p.m. to sundown during the week, with nightly programming that could include dance performances, arts and crafts workshops, and other yet-to-be dreamed up activities. The park will be utilized by the organization’s summer camp during the daytime hours.

Even before the groundbreaking, the Arts Park has already made it on to the “Brookland and Edgewood Arts & Entertainment Map,” a handout which details the Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market and other local area businesses with ties to the neighborhood’s burgeoning art scene. But Dance Place, and the community it serves, had been operating in Brookland well before there was a Busboys & Poets or pilates studio up the street.

“The folks at Dance Place made an investment 35 years ago, and we’ve really seen the neighborhood evolve. It really is a compliment to the residents and community here in Brookland and Edgewood,” said Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who spoke briefly at the groundbreaking. “I view [Dance Place] as the anchor of the arts community in Brookland and Edgewood.”

The park is being funded several ways, including a $500,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, around $71,000 from the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, and contributions from private donors and corporations. Thanks to a line item in this year’s city budget courtesy of McDuffie, the annual rental fees for Dance Place to use the public space, which would have amounted to about $86,000, have been underwritten.  

Near the end of the groundbreaking, Cyril Crocker, who serves on the project’s neighborhood-based steering committee, made a plea for further donations for the operation of the Arts Park. “We have to get another $50,000 before August 16,” he said, “so we can have not just the creation of [the park], but ongoing free programming for all the members of the community.”

As the groundbreaking concluded, Perlo announced that, just that day, Dance Place had finally received the public space and building permits from the city and were clear to begin construction. “We are breaking new ground today with programming, with creative placemaking, with our wonderful, wonderful community in Brookland and Edgewood.”

Photo by Quinn Myers