The new facility of the nonprofit World Arts Focus is painted in vibrant hues that reflect the energy bubbling inside. The sign cheers "Joe's Movement Emporium!" in a tone that entices passers-by to come in—for a leap of joy or two.
"Everybody's a Joe! Everyone can dance," says Brooke Kidd, executive director of World Arts Focus and its performance space, Joe's Movement Emporium. "Because at Joe's, we open the mental reference of 'dancer' to mean all different types of movers and artists."
Entering the emporium, you're hooked. It's an old warehouse in Mount Rainier, Md., transformed in 2007 into a 20,000 square foot performance center and multi-use artists' space that is filled with music, laughter, and movers of all kinds.
"We have so many different people—from the woman near 60 who swears she's grown three-quarters of an inch because she's been dancing with us all year, to the staff member who used to be a Club Joe's kid, to the teen who left then came back to our new space and said, 'wow, I never thought we could have something this nice in Mount Rainier,' " Kidd says.
The diverse community at Joe's is what makes it a thriving community hub. The freedom of expression is what keeps people coming back.
When Kidd created World Arts Focus, the nonprofit behind Joe's, in 1995, she had no idea the future would bring a new facility with studios, offices, and educational spaces where artists and community members could collaborate freely. But she knew she wanted to revitalize Mount Rainier through the arts.
"It was very important for me and the other artists who established this entity of Joe's to give opportunities of access to people who haven't been in the arts before," Kidd says. "When we were first looking for a space, we came to Mount Rainier for the small-town charm, for the store fronts that opened out into the community, many of which were vacant. We found the community was excited for us to come in."
Once it was established in a tiny storefront, just blocks from the present-day space, Joe's continued to growing as a neighborhood force and a leader in the revitalization of Mount Rainier and the surrounding communities of Brentwood, North Brentwood, and Hyattsville. In 1999, Kidd joined government, private, and community partners for a summit that led to the creation of the Prince George's Gateway Arts District, which continues to drive community renewal through arts opportunities even today.
"Prince George's County is rife with the need for arts education," Kidd says. "And I think what works best for Joe's is that we are a collection of artists who have retained our own identities. We're not curated. We've really seen an incredible intersection of creative forces here and the sharing has yielded rich rewards!"
Today, 80-85 percent of Joe's funds go to staff artists who deliver all the nonprofit's programs—both at the emporium and out in the community at schools and elsewhere in the county. Even amid economic strain, Kidd is always looking for new opportunities.
"We were just in here when we really had to face the recession. In one way, we were already lean and bare bones. The last two fiscal years it's been hard to grow staff," Kidd says. "But, at the same time, I'm so excited when I see potential in a new opportunity."
Kidd's motivation? To keep finding and bringing incredible arts and arts education experiences to the community; to keep being a driving force. That's why Kidd lights up when she talks about Joe's family, her enthusiasm matching the bright colors of the emporium's exterior walls.
"I see people leaving this building so happy and blissful because they've done something to feed their soul. That's what validates our work. That is the power of Joe's."
Joe's Movement Emporium is the community performing arts center of World Arts Focus, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that was launched in 1992. The mission is to promote participation and practice in dance, movement, and performing arts traditions from around the world while using the arts as a key tool to revitalize the community. For more information on Joe's Movement Emporium click here.