Break Dance - New Rhythm Arts
Alicia Oloroso… / 02.10.2022

NRAC: Our Future and Past

Alicia O. Hempfling
Alicia Oloroso Hempfling

I had often dreamed of a place that could be a home for music, dance, and other arts, but also where performances could be enjoyed. I had seen a place in my mind where individuals could experience the arts in a way that could be financially accessible to them. This place would also be a hub for performers, particularly musicians, where they could hone their craft by giving concerts and performances to the community. I could envision a place where learning an instrument or taking a dance class was within reach for someone who otherwise would not have such opportunities.

So, in 2014, the nonprofit organization, New Rhythm Arts Center was founded. In the beginning we were unable to financially afford a space; we started operations by doing outreach programs at schools and other institutions. We offered music and dance workshops, and performances.

In 2017, the place that I had dreamed of became a reality when the New Rhythm Arts Center was opened in a small storefront on Morse Avenue in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. By 2020, we decided to move to a different location, just three blocks away on Lunt Avenue, a larger and more convenient space for our operations.

Communities everywhere are in need of such arts centers, with safe, nurturing and accessible creative opportunities. New Rhythm Arts Center closed their doors at the space on Lunt Avenue recently, but the organization will now continue as New Rhythm Arts Collaborative with its core being based in the Woodlawn neighborhood. A few programs will carry on in Rogers Park in various venues and spaces. What is important are the opportunities NRAC provides in the exploration and expression of music and other creative arts. Our hope is that it continues to be a gateway to the discovery of personal worth, responsibility, and the desire to achieve.

Our Journey in building New Rhythm Arts Center/Collaborative

Prior to establishing the New Rhythm Arts Center, I had worked with a very talented and dedicated group of performers who were also teachers of their art. I had offered them a chance to be part of something new and potentially innovative - where they could teach, yes, but could also be free to experiment and create in space open to them whenever they needed it. They were enthusiastic about such a prospect, and so began a journey that would prove to be an extraordinary experience into creativity and performing arts. But in addition, we were all committed to making sure this venture would become a special place in and for the community that would facilitate and encourage wider, creative interactions with others.

I became personally and emotionally attached to every aspect of NRAC's personality. Indeed, it did have a personality, one that had become a living and breathing symbol of creative possibilities. It was a music school and performance venue; it was a place with books to read, and where ideas could be discussed, rendered and worked out. It offered many culturally artistic outlets that can challenge as well as entertain, inform as well as initiate curiosity. There was the West African Drumming, the West African Dance, and Breakdancing. One could learn to play guitar or piano. Or, they could let us know what other instrument they'd like to learn and we'd find a teacher for it. Afterall, creative pursuits and thought is the cornerstone of growth and progress. Some of us live for it, but our culture depends on it. Creativity and the arts are not reserved for the few, but for the many. We wanted to make that possible for the many.

In addition to music and dance classes, NRAC had a radio talk show program on an FM station that highlighted people in the arts – from musicians to poets, from dancers to novelists, and others. This gave artists a chance to talk about and promote their skills and talents while giving listeners a glimpse into an artist's world. I like to think that the radio program might have encouraged the would-be musician or writer to take that first step into their own, new world of creativity.

NRAC offered various workshops and outreach programs. Songwriting, video producing, African drumming, voice, and even a radio host workshop were among the many workshops offered. We went to schools to facilitate drum circles, or lead a class in rhythm and movement as part of our outreach initiative.

A very popular program is the Rogers Park Singers, a choral group started in 2018 and is still going strong. We have performed at arts festivals, senior citizen facilities and also fundraisers. The chorus rehearses weekly and a concert is given for the community at the end of each 10-week session. We are always encouraging anyone interested in singing, to join this group of enthusiastic singers.

We look forward to seeing you in future programming that we will be providing on the south or north sides of our great city: Chicago!