We had the good fortune of connecting with Dana Reed and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dana, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I was born and raised in Meridian MS. As a small child I was very interested in dance, performing, acting, and movement. I was a competitive dancer from a small studio. I attended the University of Southern MS and got a degree in Dance Education. While I was studying in college, I attended the Bates Dance Festival. This was a life-changing experience. I was at a cross roads in my career and dind’t know where my dance degree would lead me. I wasn’t interested in having a dance studio and choreographing for competitions.
In 2001, at the Bates Dance Festival, on the last day, a performance of local children began. It was the most amazing and heart-felt performance I had ever seen. No competition, no one trying to be the best, just happy confident proud children performing. I knew instantly that is what I wanted to do with my life. Teach children how to be proud of who they are.
I found out who directed this program – Youth Arts Program. Her name was Jane Weiner. I ran around everywhere trying to find who she was. When I found her, I said to her – My name is Dana Reed, I am in college in MS, and I want to be you when I grow up. How do we make that happen?
The next year in college, I started 3 FREE dance classes for kids in the community.
The next summer I came to the Bates Dance Festival as a Yout Arts Program Intern, The following year I came on as teaching staff. After a few years, I became the director of the program.
In 2010, I moved to New Orleans (from NYC where I spent 8 years as a dancer, teacher, choreographer AND Operations Manager for an International Hedge fund –that’s a whole other story!).
I was part of this program for 14 consistent summers.
When I moved to New Orleans, I worked closely with Jane and her program in Houston Tx-Hope Stone. I began to build the foundation for Upturn Arts. We went from 23 kids and 2 weeks in a church to this past year serving 800 youth in 5 locations.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I get to do what I love every single day. I had no idea what I was doing when I started Upturn Arts. I had never started a business much less a nonprofit. I took every free class the Greater New Orleans Foundation offered and met as many people as I could when I moved here. Turns out, many of those people are still supporters of UA today.
When I first started the organization, I was very rigid about how to meet its mission – Arts for All. I had an idea of what I wanted – an afterschool program. I realized in time, that may not be the best approach. Instead of forcing the programming, I decided to let opportunities present themselves. And then things began to shift, and the organization began to grow and grow. Faster than I could keep up.
Our slogan became “when school is out, we are in.” And that is how our summer and holiday camps began. We offered something that wasn’t offered to NOLA families. Additionally, all of our programs became sliding scale. Free programs were not working, so we instituted a pay-what-you-can model, that is now called creARTive grants and applications are necessary.
When Covid happened, another chance came for me to listen to the community. After our staff created 600 take-home summer camp kits with lesson plans and video tutorials, I took a break. I thought it was important for me to stop and step out. Begin to listen to what NOLA families needed. How could UA be a support during this time? What was needed and most important?
After a few months off, I decided it was time to start over. Now I could build a nonprofit with more knowledge, fewer challenges, and way more confidence. I established an equity committee with board and staff members to do a top-down assessment of the organization, its structure, procedures, and leaders. With the results, we restructured the entire organization starting with building a bigger more diverse board of directors. From there we changed how we interview, hire and train our employees.
Our organization is stronger than ever and we have continued to listen to the community. This past summer we provided stipends for our teens to attend camp with a newly developed teen leadership program and have launched the creARTive staffing agency with the aim to work with schools to fill gaps in arts education instruction.
The world should know – it is important to listen to what the community needs. How you envision meeting these needs may change. I say all the time – “the work we do is needed, the work we do is good, and the universe will provide us with the resources.” Everything does always work out. You just have to listen and make decisions that you believe in. Trust your gut.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Funny I am planning a trip right now for some friends. Here is our itinerary
Lunch at Commander’s Palace
Walk around Magazine
Street car ride to the French Quarter
Live music on Frenchman
French Quarter – art galleries and street art
Vue Orleans (new museum at Four Seasons)
Fancy Dinner – TBD
Brunch and live music at Atchafalaya
Saints game at Pete’s Out in the Cold
Magazine Street Stroll
Snacks at various restaurants along the way
French Quarter or Uptown walking tour
Trip to Audubon or City Park
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shout out to the following: Jane Weiner
Bates Dance Festival – Director Lara Faure
Upturn Arts Board members, staff, volunteers and families
Rachael Jaffe Tocco, Holly Scheib, and Jerry Lenaz – instrumental in growing UA
My mom, sisters, and late father
Other: I have just started to develop a new class series. It’s called Mindful Movement and I will start teaching on Sept. 7. The instagram handle is @mindful_mvmt_504 Again this is VERY new. We could speak on this a bit. It’s my next phase. Adult classes and focus on health, wellness, and being mindful in all areas of my life and organization.