One-On-One With Shira Greenberg

By Ellen Marks Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Shira Greenberg, founder and artistic director of "Keshet Dance and Center for the Arts" says she wants artists to learn how to take risks and how to fail, qualities that she believes artists and entrepreneurs share. That's the message she's trying to convey through her incubator: that artists can be good business risk-takers.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.

Shira Greenberg, founder of Keshet Dance and Center for the Arts, has been told she's been dancing "since I was born."

That might be an exaggeration, but still, she says, "I don't feel like there's ever been a time when I haven't felt like movement is my language."

The Minneapolis native first came to Albuquerque on a whim when she was 21 and, finding only one dance studio in town where she could take a class, she set out to create her own.

That was nearly two dozen years ago, and the Keshet center she launched now offers dance classes, summer camps, choreographed shows that include overseas performances, and outreach to disabled dancers and those in youth detention centers, among others.

Keshet (Hebrew for "rainbow") has moved from a space behind the old Albuquerque High School to a 30,000-square-foot building near Carlisle and Interstate 40 that was the former home of Duke City Studios.

The space also houses Greenberg's three-year-old Keshet Ideas and Innovation Community, an incubator for other arts entrepreneurs.

While the dance bug hit Greenberg early on, her entrepreneurial streak was nurtured by a childhood that was "pretty creatively open to be able to just make crazy choices and that's OK," she said.

Take Greenberg's dad -- an already busy guy who was a Minnesota district court judge, an actor, a singer and an accordion player. "And then he was like, 'And why don't we start an export-import business with Israel?'"

"So he'd be selling his ceramic wall hangings from Israel, and I was 8 and having made caterpillars out of cotton balls and magnets, I sold those with him and people were nice to me about it."

Greenberg said what she learned was how to take risks and how to fail, qualities that artists and entreprenuers share. That's the message she's trying to convey through her incubator: that artists can be good business risk-takers.

"A lot of artists don't think they can be an arts entrepreneur, but actually you have all the skills already there of risk-taking and the approach to failure as something you learn from as opposed to something that's bad or wrong," Greenberg said. "I think all of those pieces, plus many, many more, as an artist those are naturally the same skills you need as an entrepreneur."

How did you first end up in New Mexico?

Answer: I first moved here in 1994. I was just here as a person who arrived randomly in New Mexico, as many of us do, and I was just looking for places to dance. I wasn't here for the university, so there wasn't any place for just a plain old person to just go take a contemporary dance class. There was one woman teaching one class a week that had three people in it. She was like, "Yep, that's us. That's who's here." It was an amazing class. I loved New Mexico. I was teaching little kids' dance class. I was teaching Hebrew, and I was selling flowers in bars. It wasn't like a super-organized plan going on.

What inspired you to start Keshet?

Answer: After I moved here, I went away briefly, I put my stuff in storage and went on a long road trip and just had some time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. And I really wanted to be able to combine dance and working with kids and working with professional artists and working on community social justice issues and support broader community needs through dance. But I didn't know quite what that would look like. So I ended up back in Minneapolis for a 10-month period and while I was there, I started building the idea for Keshet and taking a bunch of classes (on nonprofit management.)

Any siblings?

Answer: I have a younger sister, and we did a lot of making of dances and plays in the garage and charging the neighbors to come see them, and it was just the two of us so we needed a lot of stuffed animals to be the other roles and then they'd run around and stuff. So that was a lot of what I did growing up.

What were you like as a teenager?

Answer: I was adventurous. I'd get an idea in my head, and I would do it. When I was 14, I decided I wanted to go to an arts high school. So I switched into an arts high school in 10th grade, but then I wanted to go deeper and my parents said, "You do the research, you get in, you get a scholarship. If you do all those things, then we'll let you go." ... So I ended up going to Interlochen (Arts Academy) in Michigan for my last two years of high school.

That's a really challenging school.

I think I didn't know that, though. I think that's been my benefit is a level of naivete.

What do you do in your free time?

Answer: Currently, I don't have free time. That's what I'm working on next is to shape a world that includes free time. I don't quite have that yet. My husband works a lot. I work a lot. When I'm not working, I'm hanging out with my kiddo.

What do you plan to do with your free time once you get some?

Answer: I would like to be able to go for walks, go for some hikes, do some camping. I used to like to cook things. We do a lot of takeout right now, so cooking sounds good. I would like to build in more time that is about dance without purpose, to just get back into the studio and work again, rather than always being, "We have a show, we have a rehearsal, we have a thing, I've got a class, we've got a grant proposal due."

What's the best compliment you've ever received?

Answer: I think something along the lines that I've heard a couple of times is, "Thank you for providing a home for me, a space where I can be myself." A lot of times it's variations of that theme of people maybe feeling like they didn't fit in other places, but they were able to come here and be themselves and have value in their creative voice.

What's on your bucket list?

Answer: I would say there's a lot of things related to where I would love this company to be able to go. The performance company as well -- where could we travel to and perform. And we've been chipping away at some of them. A couple of years ago, we went to Italy and we performed in front of St. Mark's Square, and it was so fun and only one person rolled in pigeon poop.

What are your favorite spots in the world?

Answer: It's less about the place itself and more about who you're with. If I'm with my family, I love it. If I'm with my Keshet family, I love it. When I'm with them all together, even better. I love the skies here, I love the air here, I love the space. And it reminds me a lot of Israel. I love Israel, and so that has been a benefit. But if my choice is go visit lots of places or stay home and cuddle up on the couch with my family, I like the couch with my family.

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