A church. Abandoned by time. Overlooked by society. Unappreciated for its potential.
The Blankenship Ballet Studio in Venice has come a long way from its 1905 roots. Built by the Christian Science Church for use as a church and school, the development of Main Street in 1937 saw the decline of the building, by then relegated to a Sunday school room.
A century later, the space was a vestige of its former self. But when Mark Blankenship and wife Bertha Suarez Blankenship saw the building, they recognized the possibilities for a renovation.
“A year and a half ago, we were looking for somewhere to recreate and establish our ballet company, and (the studio) was so beautiful and inspiring that it was one of the things we felt we needed to focus on,” Mark Blankenship says. “We spoke with the church and developed an opportunity to recreate it, restore the building so that it would operate as a beautiful stage to create art.”
After a ten-month period of renovation, the Blankenship Ballet Studio became fully operational in October, pulled together in a community effort.
“We found artistic people to get their hands on it, people you wouldn’t expect to be working on a building, all sorts of artists and local people walking on the street,” Blankenship says. “Our goal was to make it so the building would be here forever.”
There’s a sense of inspiration and beauty that affects all who walk in, Blankenship says.
“Opening the doors was like opening the floodgates, where people are streaming in seeking to create arts,” he says.
The studio’s opening also created an opportunity for the ballet company to work with other types of dance, and eventually, other art forms.
“The community was parched for a room or venue like this, and we started to blend the vision of the ballet company with local artists,” Blankenship says. “It’s led us in interesting directions with community events and performing arts.
“We thought we’d take this beautiful venue and give it back to the community so it could be an inspiration, sort of like an arts club or center where people can come in and do things.”
Saturday marks the gala opening of what will be a monthly series of “incredible” performances, with the Venice Cabaret Theatre.
Inspired by the local artists, Blankenship sought to turn Venice into a Moulin Rouge-inspired place where cutting edge people could perform and which the community could embrace, he says.
And though a monthly cabaret event could fall into a routine, he says he wants it to be anything but.
“We want the Cabaret Theatre to be a living, breathing thing,” Blankenship says.
“We want it to evolve to be entertaining, thought-provoking.”
Venice Cabaret Theatre will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 14th at the Blankenship Ballet Studio, 132 Brooks Ave., Venice. Admission is $10 pre-paid, $15 at the door. Reservations, (866) 922-5538.
“I’m most looking forward to observing the enlightenment, the enthusiasm of all those who walk in here and see what’s happening. It’s better than money, it’s like a dream,” Blankenship says.
“I can’t describe it very well, you just have to come in and feel it.”