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Cemented in DREAMS: Local nonprofit lays foundation for new theatre and performing arts center in Brooklyn Arts District

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DREAMS lays the foundation for their new performing arts center, The Garage, slated to open in the Brooklyn Arts District.

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Laying concrete for The Garage @ DREAMS. Photo by Matt Carvin.

Laying concrete for The Garage @ DREAMS. Photo by Matt Carvin.

Beginning in the early morning of Thursday, July 2, DREAMS of Wilmington began its addition of the 5,000-square-foot second half of its 901 Fanning Street location in downtown’s Brooklyn Arts District. This new space, known as “The Garage @ DREAMS,” will be a multipurpose theatre and performing arts center for the nonprofit’s arts programming for at-risk youth. As well, it will provide an open space for local art organizations, corporate and private events, and other functions for which folks may need a space. Encore sat down with the  executive director of DREAMS, Matt Carvin, to learn more about this next step for the community-based youth program.

encore (e): Let’s start with the purpose of The Garage @ DREAMS: What’s it going to fulfill for the program?

Matt Carvin (MC): While the DREAMS Center currently hosts an array of professional art studios, a full digital arts space, a top-notch hardwood-floor dance studio and a colorful comfortable student lounge, our greatest need is something all artists and performers require in the end: a place to share their work with the world!

DREAMS serves approximately 120 children each semester, all of whom come to the center twice a week to work on a variety of significant, in-depth projects. While the results are always staggering, it isn’t the product where we focus our energies, but the process. The success of “DREAMS 99%”—stemming from the fact that for the past 18 years 99 percent of our enrolled students have not only graduated from high school but also gone to college—results from an insistence that each of our students be purposefully engaged with authentic, creative art-making experiences.

For example, if you were to peek your head into one of our jewelry or metal-smithing classes, you’d just as likely hear a group discussion about branding, marketing, and effective sales presentation as see numerous pairs of beautiful earrings being created. If you walked into our fashion design class, you might find them in the middle of a think-tank collaboration with the kids from our music theatre class, sketching out custom costume designs for an upcoming show. Each day at work I am absolutely surrounded by powerful and compelling stories—all I have to do is peek my head in a classroom! Yet, at the same time, art is meant to be shared, not stored in a classroom; and our DREAMers truly long to share their art with the world.

Soon, for the first time ever, our kids will have that opportunity. They will have an actual dance-rated, professional stage to choreograph their ballet and walk through stage-blocking. One of my favorite three-piece rock bands made up of 12-year-olds will finally have a house sound system to plug into, a lighting board to design their stage lighting, and of course an entire 5,000-square-foot venue to sell out. Hundreds of parents, friends and community members will finally have the opportunity to take on an exciting and critical new role: as audience members.

e: How do you envision this melding into and adding to the overall growth of not only DREAMS but the Brooklyn Arts District?

MC: It is our hope that the Garage will serve as both a community arts incubator and local economic driver. We are very excited and fortunate to have a variety of strong, synergistic partnerships already in place with many of our neighbors in the growing Brooklyn Arts District. Our teaching artists at DREAMS are all professionals; many live and work in the north side. In fact, Michael Van Hout, one of our original founding teaching artists, works at Acme Studios on Fifth Avenue, where many other DREAMS teaching artists lease studio space as well. Our kids frequently take fun field trips down there, as it’s important for them to observe how their mentors make art outside the classroom, to see the spaces they work and create in, and the way they operate professionally.

We also look forward to building an even stronger relationship with Cape Fear Community College and their new Humanities and Fine Arts Building. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be friends and just up the street from the second biggest performing arts center in the state of NC! This fall, through our partnership with the CFCC Humanities and Fine Arts Center, our DREAMers will get regular up-close and personal exposure to world-class visiting artists and performers—an opportunity that otherwise would have never been possible. Of course, we anticipate Cape Fear Community College’s investment in our kids paying off in an exciting way for them as well, when those very same kids this fall graduate in a few years as proud members of the “DREAMS 99%” and eagerly join the CFCC family not as nervous and insecure freshman but as comfortable long-time friends.

e: You include other performance and artist use as purposes for the space. Are you putting together a schedule of events of sorts or will you partner with theatre, music and other entertainment groups as you go along?

MC: We do plan on having a rotating performing arts series and a compelling schedule of events, but the goal of the Garage is not to act as a presenter, but to be a place for the community to come together for events and other self-presenting arts and performing-arts groups to affordably realize their artistic visions and connect with audiences, just as our young artists at DREAMS will have the opportunity to do.

The Garage will have several competitive advantages to help us achieve this goal. For one, it will be a truly flexible, multi-purpose facility, decked out with custom-modular staging, state-of-the-art sound, lights and rigging, ceiling-mounted projection system, and more. We’ll be equipped to do everything from theatre-in-the-round to fashion runways, traditional proscenium settings to bluegrass festivals. We’ll have gated off-street parking for over 100 cars. Probably the most significant of all: DREAMS is a thriving nonprofit youth arts development organization, not a theatre company or performing-arts venue. We’ll be operating a theatre and performing-arts venue complete with all the bells and whistles, but ticket sales will never largely factor in to keeping our doors open. 

e: Does this mean you’ll need more volunteers? What are your needs and how can someone get involved?

MC: We always could use more volunteers—it’s definitely one of the most fun jobs around!

Of course, we are currently wrapping up the final stages of our $500,000 capital campaign to complete the renovation process and make the Garage fully operable as a multipurpose venue and community arts space opening in October. We are only $30,000 away.

Readers can find out more about The Garage @ DREAMS and volunteer opportunities at Or call (910) 772-1501 to find out how to get connected.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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