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Now Lifting MSTDA Through A Coronavirus Future: Spirit and Commitment


While survival alone guides the course for many nonprofits, MSTDA’s coronavirus future brightens by drawing on its past.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island News

After Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance’s surprising move, expanding during the coronavirus crisis, I caught up with executive director Kristi Towey to find out more.

MSTDA’s Coronavirus Future: Past Is Prologue

Over the last several months, MSTDA worked alongside Bridget and Owen Johnston, merging Music & Playstation into the fold. The Johnston’s move to California left a well-crafted business ready for growth.

MSTDA's coronavirus future is guided by inspired leadership.
Out on the (small) town in 2019, MSTDA’s leadership team: Assistant Executive Director Kimbirdlee Fadner; Current Director Kristi Towey, and past Director Jacqueline Lucid.

Lead by executive director Kristi Towey, thoughtfully aided by Shops on Main, the school accepted the challenge. With COVID-19 racking the economy, nonprofit arts groups badly hit, that took guts.

But more important, it took a solid foundation built by an inspired mission.

The Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance 
strives to nourish creativity by providing high quality music, theatrical and dance training as well as performing opportunities to everyone in our diverse community. We believe that every person, child or adult, should have the opportunity to participate in the arts, regardless of cultural, socio-economic, ethnic background or age.

Adhering to that mission, even in the toughest times, made growth, when no one else was doing it, not just possible, but wise.

Mission Means Results

While Towey is quick to credit Music & Play Station’s pioneers and Hudson-Related for easing the transition, it’s MSTDA’s history powering it through the coronavirus future.

“Expanding services to the community through better communication,” Towey says keyed growth during her five years.

But more important “…a happy student body.”

“Providing high quality programing” has always been part of MSTDA’s quarter-century commitment.

“Parents feel that their kids get training, creativity and full body nourishment,” she adds.

And that’s not just talk. Participation grew by 50% during Towey’s watch. By other measures, success has been reflected in public performances, the ultimate goal of MSTDA’s training.

Shows presented by all age groups in the Howe Theatre, nearly always sell out.

Changing Everything for MSTDA: A Coronavirus Future

For Towey, the mission is broader.

“I love this business,” she says.

“I love what it does in the community, love the impact. And the possibilities are endless.”

But vision powers everything.

“I’m more excited about where it goes beyond me,” Towey says.

Although she has no plans for leaving, when she does, she wants a firm and vibrant foundation to be her legacy.

When the Going Gets Tough…

You know the rest of that line, and powering MSTDA’s coronavirus future meant, not just tough, but creative.

“We just finished a six-week outdoor semester,” Towey explained working around COVID-19 restrictions.

Wearing face masks, we sat on stools, six feet apart. Floor markings were already in place to guide social distancing for indoor classes.

MSTDA's coronavirus future depended on innovations like outdoor classes.
Overcoming pandemic restrictions led to popular outdoor classes, complementing Zoom sessions.

Innovating with Zoom helped too, and the results may be spectacular.

For example, MSTDA has already scheduled a pair of publicly staged readings between now and the end of the year.

Their Teen Class will perform a radio broadcast version of The 39 Steps on November 13th, 14th and 15th. Meeting limited attendance requirements, the gang will do their thing in Good Shepherd Community Center.

But they will also stream each show, thanks to a huge boost from Mosaic Church donating equipment and expertise used in their services.

In December, collaborating with Common Man Musicals, MSTDA will also stage Ghosts All Around Us. It’s a multi-generational show created by Jonathan Fadner, loosely based on A Christmas Carol.

And it brings back director Steven Eng, extending MSTDA’s ongoing partnership with National Asian Artists Project (NAAP).

Performances are on tap for December 11th thru the 13th and will also be streamed.

MSTDA’s Coronavirus Future: Impossible Without Community Help

Always critical aid granted MSTDA through RIOC’s generous distribution of public purpose funds, the money was more important than ever in 2020. And CFO John O’Reilly’s streamlining of the process, getting the money out sooner, was a difference maker.

MSTDA's Coronavirus Future lands at a new location at 507 Main Street
MSTDA’s 507 Main Street window reflects through Halloween designs…

As the crisis hit, MSTDA scrambled for federal payroll protection funds, helping to keep a talented staff paid during lockdown. And New York Community Trust also aided with a grant.

But most impressive of all was community support contributed in a time of general distress.

A pair of Facebook Fundraisers helped with, among other things, paying for $4,000 in PPE needs. And while donations to a link on MSTDA’s homepage are always valued, deeply gratifying were additional contributions added on by parents when paying class fees.

“Figuring out the rest of the year to June is a challenge,” Towey said about MSTDA’s coronavirus future, but it’s hard to image this great organization not figuring it out.

“What’s past is prologue,” according to Shakespeare. Who’s going to argue?


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