Cover Story -Where Stars are Born
By Sally Deering
Tucked inside the downtown Jersey City community on Coles Street is a rather plain looking storefront that when you step inside makes you feel like Dorothy landing in Munchkinland in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Welcome to the Grassroots Community Space, an intimate one-room studio rental where dancers, actors, drummers and other artists teach classes and put on performances. Warm and welcoming, the Grassroots Community Space has a vibe that seems to say “let’s have fun and create something” and it serve an even greater purpose as a small business incubator for local artists to try their hand at teaching their craft. Some groups, who have rented the Grassroots Community Space to teach classes have gone on to start their own business in their own space.
Jersey City is home to many professional artists, actors, singers, dancers, writers and poets from all over the world, but performance space is limited – and pricey. In 2008, with a couple of partners, Chelo Mercado of Jersey City saw the need for a community space where local artists could teach and perform. The trio decided to fill the gap and open Grassroots Community Space for artists to share their artistry.
Seven days a week, Grassroots Community Space bustles with activity. Bollywood Funk classes on Thursdays; Hula Hoop fitness and Egyptian Belly dance Classes on Mondays; Musical Theater, Guitar, Hatha Yoga, Tap Dance, Baby Music/Movement, Sign Language, Afro-Caribbean Dance, Drumming, Zumba, Salsa, and Song and Dance classes are held throughout the week with new classes forming all the time. There are special events, too, like the Saturday night Drum Circles, art shows and performances that keep the space humming while Mercado and his wife Sirena Mari Mercado keep it growing.
Recently, Chelo Mercado took time out of his busy schedule to share with Riverview Observer his thoughts on the importance of creating performance space for artists and how Grassroots Community Space sprouted from that need.
RVO: Chelo Mercado, how did you become founder and CEO of Grassroots Community Space?
CM: When I moved to Jersey City, I discovered the Jersey City art scene and I wanted to help the talent here, people who didn’t have the resources to make their art a viable way of making a living, I decided to get involved. I saw a void and I wanted to help fill that void and create a space that was open to and interested in developing this city artistically. So in December of 2008, I opened Grassroots Community Space with two other partners. The following April we had our first customer, a Brazilian martial arts group. Fortunately they opened up their own studio about two years after they were with me.
RVO: How did it actually come about?
CM: A friend of mine Lex Leonard had a gallery here, the Lex Leonard Gallery, and he would periodically rent the space to artists. They would paint and do various things of that nature. Along with a local entrepreneur friend of ours, Lex and I discussed getting a location and continuing to support the art scene and making space available for artists. From there we found a space. In the beginning it was the Grassroots Community Café, but there were too many cafes in Jersey City.
RVO: What is the mission of the space?
CM: Grassroots Community Space is an organic movement that’s paying attention to the needs of its surrounding community. We are a small business incubator. Any entrepreneur who has gotten certified in a discipline can approach us with a small business idea and get started with us. We’ll give them the support to start their business. Some classes have been with me almost since the beginning like Belly dance, Zumba, Hula-hoop fitness. What we offer is space, our community, and the network we’ve built over the years. And through Sirelo Entertainment , the company my wife and I own, we offer a lot of events where these disciplines can be put on display and promoted, giving them more opportunity to grow. We’ve helped about 30 small businesses. Some have come and gone, some have been able to open up their own space.
RVO: What are the most interesting classes at Grassroots Community Space?
CM: We have many multi-cultural classes like Bollywood Funk, Afro-Caribbean and Egyptian Belly dance. At the end of the day, we are all welcoming if you will. We have a diverse schedule. We are all encompassing as long as all of the groups are all-inviting.
RVO: Let’s talk about drumming, is that something you teach?
CM: We have a monthly drum circle at Grassroots called Community Rhythm. We’re into drumming and percussion, That’s been my induction to the arts.
RVO: How much does it cost to rent the space?
CM: Our rates are competitive with other non-profit spaces in Jersey City.
RVO: Can you offer advice to others who may want to open their own community art space?
CM: It’s not an easy thing. There’s a lot of backend work, but if you’re hungry and open enough to go after your dream it is something that can be achieved. Ask yourself, do I want to open my own space and deal with the costs of leasing the place for a number of years or do I test it somewhere where my only commitment is a month-to-month hourly basis where you can see if this is something you can and want to do.
RVO: I imagine you have a pretty big fan base of artists?
CM: I’m very fortunate. They thank me and I thank them back. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for their energy. I feel we are creating a community of interest and improving the quality of life. Jersey City is my home. This is the place where I want to live and see the arts survive.
Grassroots Community Space
54 Coles St