I went to see some office space for Chhandika a couple of days ago. I dream of having an office for the organization. Not only to get the boxes of papers, brochures, flyers, video footage and other stuff out from under my bed and my scant storage space, but because I feel the organization will never be able to make it to the next level without a space to call its own, a space in which to greet visitors and possible donors, in which to welcome volunteers, in which to centralize our books, our video, our marketing materials, our production materials. We are too physically scattered now to be as efficient as we’d like.
So I have been looking at office space. One place, for rent last year at the end of my street, and conveniently located just a block from where we hold many of our kathak dance classes, looked perfect. A storefront space, large enough to house a couple of desks, a round meeting table with chairs, some bookshelves, a comfortable armchair, a rug or two, some wall hangings from India, a display of photos and quotes from our events, with storage space for costumes, dance bells, instruments. It was so easy for my mind to fill it, to furnish it, to turn it into a warm, inviting, practical, useful space. I could hear the strains of a sarod, smell the masala chai. But the rent was too high. (And yet. The group that did sign a lease is some esoteric, avant garde art group of sorts, which draws the curtains across the storefront and periodically opens them to allow passers by a view of a pyramid of unlabeled tin cans, or an abstract design of cotton balls strewn across the white floor. Right now there is a gilded television set displaying static. How this group has the money to pay $850 per month in rent, while Chhandika, with over 70 dance students, would struggle to pay half as much, is beyond me.)
Then I looked at a different space, in a residential area, two blocks off of a main avenue. There were three empty offices available within an architecturally interesting ground floor suite which included a kitchen and a circular meeting room with plush carpeting. An aura of hushed tranquility hung over the whole place. The manager of the property showed me around. She spoke in the sparse, quiet way of someone who spends much of her time meditating and cannot be bothered with practical details. I could again picture us using the space, perhaps sharing an office with another group, but it felt too removed from the world. Too quiet, too invisible from the street. Kathak is colorful, dynamic, percussive, full of stories. I wondered what kind of story we could tell there.
The search continues. But my husband brings up some good points: does it make sense for a non-profit organization to be looking for office space, when that will drastically increase our overhead costs? Shouldn’t the goal be to reduce them? In an era of wireless this and off-grid that, is it old fashioned to seek a physical place in which to gather people and stuff? Should we instead be putting the money into streamlining our systems to function more efficiently in a spread-out fashion? How does one reconcile the new ways of doing business with the need for face-to-face contact? Dance is physical, emotional, spatial. We can upload files to Google Documents to access them from anywhere, and we can hold administrative meetings via conference call, but how do we create a space of our own to cultivate human connection when we do not have an office or studio of our own? (All our classes are held in studio spaces that we rent from other organizations.)