Little Rock’s Dreamland Ballroom Receives $499,668 African American Civil Rights Grant
Historic 100 year old ballroom frequented by the legends of African American entertainment, wins a major grant to help make the venue handicap accessible. Read the full release from PRWEB or AR Democrat Gazette.
On this page you will find short blog posts by our Director, Matthew McCoy. These are meant to be progress reports for the public the Dreamland Ballroom will soon serve. In weeks were progress is light, Matthew might talk about other projects Friends of Dreamland is working on. Or what he’s been thinking about relating to FODs mission. To learn more about the over all renovation and rehabilitation plan and how you can be involved, take a look into Our Future.
10.11.19 This week I feel like the addition is finally starting to look like a building! Or a future building. On top of concrete foundation, we’ve got a rising elevator shaft and the beginnings of steel and wood framing. Over the next week or so, we’ll get to see the first floor fully framed.
Now that we have moved out of the basement portion of the addition, construction is moving along at a much faster rate than before. A firm completion date still eludes us but hopefully we’ll ride the elevator to the Dreamland Ballroom sometime in the spring of 2020. Don’t hold me to that though!
Earlier this month, the National Parks Service gave the Friends of Dreamland a ‘shout out’ on their Facebook page. Acknowledging the work we’ve done in preserving the Dreamland Ballroom and congratulating us on receiving the African American Civil Rights Preservation Grant back in the spring of 2018. This is the grant that is helping to fund a large part of the addition. At the same time, they announced the posting of the 2019 AACRPG! We are very excited to apply for this grant opportunity again. We had to reduce the scope of work for the current project, taking out new windows, central ACHV systems, ADA bathrooms, and a paved parking lot. Wish us luck as we move through this next funding process and, hopefully, the next phase of improvements to Taborian Hall and the Dreamland Ballroom. There’s still so much work to be done in improving accessibility to the ballroom and rehabilitate this historic space.
Keep Dreaming, Matthew
09.25.19 How good it feels to have that giant pile of dirt gone! AMR’s construction team is working hard pouring concrete, spreading gravel, and working wood to lay out the foundation for the ground level of the addition.
This last couple of weeks, I’ve been wrestling with our purpose. Friends of Dreamland’s mission: to bring back the history, music, and party of the Dreamland Ballroom. For so many years, FOD’s primary objective under this mission has been code compliance and the elevator. Basically, helping put the ballroom in a position to work to preserve itself and realize it’s historic potential as communal space and a performance hall. With the elevator on its way, the ballroom is more firmly on its pathway to preservation than ever before. A lot goes into running a historic theater/ballroom, the non-profit will always play a part in keeping the historic integrity of the physical space. But the question I’ve been asking myself and my board (and anyone who will listen) is: What can FOD do to serve our community? Beyond rehabilitating the room and sharing the important history, what do we need to be advocating; what is our message?
I see a lot of potential in the history of this place, obviously. So many dynamic and fascinating characters involved in the legacy of the building. From people who ran various businesses within these brick walls to big performers who played in the ballroom. Over the last week, I met with local history professors Berna Love and Edmond Davis. They gave me great input on how to teach history in a compelling way, how to use that history as a lens for modern issues, and draw out powerful messages without being preachy, while also remembering to appreciate historic events as simply being good stories worth sharing.
The significance of the musical legacy of the Dreamland Ballroom and 9th Street isn’t to be overlooked, either. Music programs, multi-media showcases, studio/gallery space, public performances; the ballroom’s potential as a venue is substantial. The non-profit can facilitate the growth of amateur and professional artists and performers to increase and hold onto the creative people in Arkansas, as well as creating important events for our city.
Our mission allows us to reach outside of our building to 9th Street itself. This area is well overdue for new businesses and beautification. With organizations like Mosaic Templars, Philander Smith, and the new Little Rock Arts District all calling this area home, I think now is the time for this revitalization!
What do you see in the future of Friends of Dreamland? Is there a project for our area that you have been waiting for? Is there something Little Rock needs that would make a good fit in our mission, building, or district? I encourage you to reach out! I’m only and email or call away and we are here to help.
Keep Dreaming, Matthew
09.13.19 Sorry to skip last week guys! A light week though and I was out of office. I did come back to dry concrete walls around the basement floor of the addition. Monday the construction team waterproofed them and Tuesday they began back filling the pit!! YAY!!! Today, they’ve just about got it topped off.
On the administrative end of things, we’ve been picking brick colors, deciding on cornerstone honorees, landscaping, and scoping out a little interior design. I encourage all the Friends of Dreamland to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments about how we are moving forward with these creative portions of the project. Very little of that has been finalized, since it’s still a ways off.
While the construction plugs along, we are in the throes of preparing for Dancing into Dreamland 2019. Our 10th year for the annual fundraiser, DID’19 is shaping up to be a spectacular event. Get more details from our Facebook event and purchase your tickets on our website! We’d love to see you there!
We are always in need of your support. Other than Dancing in Dreamland, our year-round donation program is called Pave the Way. Your donation to this program gets you an inscribed brick, placed in the sidewalk outside the ballroom entrance.
All efforts facilitate the beautification and revitalization of a historic district, contribute to the preservation of African American artifacts, back the cultural relevance of Little Rock and Arkansas, and support educating the nation and world about buried truths & American history.
08.29.19 Rainy days early in the week caused some delays - another complication prevalent in working in a ditch. And it’s not the first time water in the hole has slowed construction. Can’t WAIT for this phase of the project to be complete! Though, with the cooler weather that came after, they are doing some fine detail work around the elevator shaft.
One thing they have done in the last few days is cut into the basement. Last week they cut through the concrete egress that allowed basement access from the outside. Windows already existed in this pit, they have simply taken out the bars and are starting to open one up into a doorway.
The basement of Taborian is really cool. Low ceilings and a layout similar to the showroom above it. This floor was the most recently used part of the building before Kerry McCoy bought it in the early 1990’s. That final tenant vacated in the late ‘70s. It has a very “speakeasy” vibe.
With construction slow and the basement in mind, I’ve delved back into some of Taborian’s history this week. I also met with all the boards I serve on, in some way; Celebrate! Maya [Angelou] Project, the new Little Rock Arts District, and a “think tank” preservation group with Annie Abrams and other conservation advocates in town. Talking with so many history buffs as I read about our local heritage can make one very reflective. And thinking back on Little Rock’s racial history is often unsettling, to put it mildly. But the inspiring people I have the pleasure of serving and conversing with give me a lot of hope as a “young professional” working in and trying to make-better my hometown.
Just like the basement (and all) of Taborian Hall, Little Rock has a rich history and so much potential. At the turn of the 20th century, Little Rock was one of the most progressive cities in the south. Less than half way through the same century, the pendulum of race relations swung the opposite way. I’d say that Little Rock’s on the mend from this and has been for a while. But looking back on the history of 9th St, I see a lot of parallels to some of our modern issues. Back then, we saw a portion of the (white) majority feel threatened by the successes of a minority (black) group, causing them to lash out. Today, we see this with more than just the African American community. Hispanics, women, LGBTQ, Jews, and Muslims can feel that stinging lash, too. As far as anyone can say, love and hate persist. The difference that can be made now is in how much anyone else cares. The downfall of 9th St was initiated by a few divisive city leaders. We see that in the efforts for urban renewal in this area. No one that lived or worked in the black business district at the time was asked, “what do you think should be included in the ‘renewal’? Should it even happen?” The 9th St decline was perpetuated when the rest of the white majority did nothing. We see that in the urban blight. Everyone was driven out and nothing was built or “renewed” to replace it. Back then it was easy for the white population to say, “not my community, not my problem” and move. We still live fairly divided. Sub-cultures living next to each other but not always with each other. It’s important to remember the unsustainable nature of living segregated. It can seem easier sometimes but, in the long run, it’s not. It’s tempting to ignore the slights of the past. Why rehash old offenses? I heard a man (former county prosecutor John Whitten in Sumner, MS) on the radio say “If nobody would stir that damn pile of stuff up, it wouldn't stink.” when asked about the infamous murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi. But I’d argue that it’s really important to “stir the stuff up.” One of the issues in the Emmett story is that the narrative is divided due to decades of ‘hushed’ talk on the subject. Blacks feared for their lives when talking about Emmett’s murder. The thought of anyone in American, the land of free speech, fearing for their well-being based on something they say, makes me feel sick and scared.
In the digital age, it’s harder to ignore these violations of human rights. They are regularly thrust in our face and feeds. I think, this has led to a more empathetic public. And, I hope to see that trend continue. Dreamland Ballroom exists as a physical space to house that “improved empathy.” Because, while injustice is more visible than ever, it's still easy to ignore a disturbing notification or headline, particularly when there can be so many. The Friends of Dreamland hope to create a space where people can practice unity in real time, face-to-face.
Anyway, that’s enough of my rambling… Keep Dreaming, Matthew.
08.23.19 Walls are rising, up and up! We are moving out of the ground, little-by-little. This last couple of weeks (Sorry, I missed a post last week :/), the construction crew has been cutting into the building and they’ve started erecting the casts for the basement walls. Of course, we’ve run into a few more unexpected “snafus” in the process.
Portions of the back-part of the old building lacked a “true” foundation. The details of how one corrects that kind of thing, are beyond my understanding. But I trust the AMR Construction team to make it right. We are also working on sealing the basement. Water has leaked into it from various sides of the building for years. One of the many reasons it has been underutilized for a long time. These two recent (relative term here) developments are keeping the construction crew down in the pit for longer than expected.
Fingers crossed; the digging portion of the project offers the most variables in the building process. Once we have the basement complete and can fill the hole, we’ll start building up. Which should offer less surprises.
Keep dreaming, Matthew.
08.09.19 This week we’ve seen the walls rise. Everyday, employees of Flagandbanner.com hang out the second floor window with me. We’ve watched the lot go from a gravel flat, to a small hole, then a very big hole with an adjacent 2-story-high dirt mound (affectionately refereed to as Mt. Kerry), the hole was full of water briefly, and now the AMR Construction team has finally begun pouring concrete floors and walls. It’s probably been the most satisfying phase of the project to date. Finally getting something substantial to show off (sort of).
This week we’ve also held our first planning sessions for Dancing into Dreamland 2019. This will be the 10th year running for our annual fundraiser. So, we’re hosting an extra special Tournament of Champions. Tickets and tables are on sale now. Hope y’all will celebrate with us November 15!
During the meeting Thursday night, our board members toasted to the new construction. Some of these board members have been Friends of Dreamland since its founding in 2009. All were ecstatic when they saw the little structure at the bottom of the pit. Seemingly as satiated as me with the progress. I’m so thankful to them and to everyone that has served our mission.
~Keep dreaming, Matthew.
08.01.19 Over a year later, the construction has finally begun!! And by construction, I mean digging. It’s hard to believe how much goes into digging a hole… It’s necessary though. The new elevator addition will go all the way down to the basement. So, ultimately, four stops.
Kerry said before the project ever start, “We’ll hit water! We’re in downtown Little Rock after-all” Apparently, underwater springs are ‘a thing’ when digging downtown. They have indeed struck water and quite a bit else while excavating for the basement. Cables, 100 year old foundation, water lines, a funky-old glass bottle. A couple of those have posed some actually problems. Coupled with the bureaucracy involved in the federal granting process, its no wonder we are starting so many months after receiving the initial funds in the spring of 2018. Coordinating between an electric company, cable/internet providers, fiber-optic cable installers, the fire marshal and more has been a pretty big undertaking. All while working with an architect and contractor to figure out how to best improve the building without damaging the historic integrity of this great old structure.
Its all, without a doubt, very worth it. The plans we have now, are better then we ever dreamed. We have, as well, been blessed to work with some amazing people through this whole process.
Every Thursday afternoon, I’ll have an update for you right here. Keep an eye on our Facebook page too for more ‘in the moment’ updates.
~Keep dreaming, Matthew.
Dreams Come True
By Matthew Savage McCoy, Executive Director, Friends of Dreamland
as featured in BRAVE Magazine
The Dreamland Ballroom has been a part of my life for the whole of my life. Kerry McCoy bought the building in 1990, the year I was born.
By the way, my name is Matthew McCoy, I'm the Executive Director of the Friends of Dreamland, an employee of Arkansas Flag and Banner, and middle son to Kerry and Grady McCoy.
Growing up, I took the third-floor ballroom of the Arkansas Flag and Banner building for granted. A big old room. Beautiful? Sure, but ultimately my parents’ work place. The place I spent those incredibly boring days in anyone’s childhood, when school wasn’t in session, your parents still had to go to work, and you had to find some way to entertain yourself. And be quiet about it. Luckily for me and my three other siblings, we had this big, empty, kind of dangerous ballroom to help whittle away those hours that seem to go on forever when one is that young.
For most of my life, I remember the first two floors of the building being intact. I remember people working at desks, having meetings in meeting rooms, long tables dedicated to sewing large flags, screen printers, digital printers, all the hustle-and-bustle of a work place. But the top floor was empty and quiet. The floors were not reliable, the safe spots denoted by colored flag scraps, and the mezzanines held up by two by four "columns" wedged into place.
Around 2009, Kerry decided to take on the renovation of the third floor. Unable to acquire a loan, due to the unmarketable nature of a vacant, borderline decrepit, old room, she founded the non-profit Friends of Dreamland (FOD), dedicated to the restoration of the Dreamland Ballroom. This status made grant funding available and donations possible by other old building buffs like my mom.
However, the ballroom restoration was a bigger task than anyone anticipated. But its potential was even bigger. In 2012, FOD hosted their annual fundraiser, Dancing into Dreamland, in the ballroom for the first time. The previous years' fundraisers had been held at the Little Rock Governor’s Mansion. It didn’t take long for the Board of Directors and Kerry to find one very large problem with hosting any event in the historic space... no elevator.
Not being ADA compliant, the liability that FOD, Arkansas Flag and Banner, and my family assumed every time there was an event in the ballroom, regularly put my parents into near-cardiac arrest. So, eventually, Dancing into Dreamland was the only event we continued to host in this incredible venue.
In February of 2017, I moved back to Little Rock after attending college in Fayetteville, Arkansas and began working at the family flag shop. The ballroom’s condition had improved from when I was in high school. Being slightly more mature, I realized that untapped potential my mother always talked about. I began to familiarize myself with the history of this place and this district of Little Rock, and I was blown away. Like many of the people in the area, I had no idea what a jewel this building was to downtown Little Rock, although I had much less of an excuse— essentially being raised in it.
The Friends of Dreamland was doing a great job slowly restoring and maintaining the space, but the time had come to expedite the process. A friend and fan of our non-profit contacted us in the spring of 2017 about a grant, a grant that had Dreamland written all over it: a Civil Rights Preservation Grant awarded by the National Parks Service. I knew this was my chance. I volunteered to do all the paper work, facilitate meetings, contact contractors to make bids and manage files, anything to make it happen. With the help of an amazing team of people, we applied in October…the day the grant application was due! After that, it was all waiting and hoping.
February came and went with no word from Washington. I put the possibility of being awarded this grant out of my mind. Then, this past March, I received a voicemail on my personal cell phone. A month overdue, it was a call I didn’t anticipate. I listened to the message, eyes widening, as I realized what the woman on the other end was saying: “Congratulations! We are calling on behalf of the National Parks Service to inform you that Friends of Dreamland has been awarded $499,668.00…” I jumped out of my chair and ran down the hall to my mother’s office. Fumbling with my phone to replay the message for her, I put it on speaker and watched her face as it registered with her what the lady was saying. She screamed and jumped out of her chair, ecstatic. A lifetime goal—my lifetime at least— finally realized.
Your support to the Friends of Dreamland and our mission means everything to us, literally! Find donation options in our site menu or make a general contribution by click the ‘DONATE’ button below. THANK YOU and never stop DREAMING!
All efforts support the beautification and revitalization of a historic district, contribute to the preservation of African American artifacts, back the cultural relevancy of Little Rock and Arkansas, and aid in educating the nation and world about buried truths & American history. Friends of Dreamland is a 501(c)3 and your donation is tax deductible