Dancing in the Deep End

Dancers from the Newburgh Performing Arts Academy

Dancers from the Newburgh Performing Arts Academy prepare for the performance, which includes a red ball that serves as a symbol of distraction. (Photos provided)

Newburgh performance addresses the politics of the pool

On Nov. 20 — not a time of year people in the Northeast associate with swimming — a group of teenage dancers from the Newburgh Performing Arts Academy will enter a long-abandoned pool at the headquarters of the city’s Boys and Girls Club. 

The 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds will use the empty pool as an unusual stage to perform Dear Young Artist, a collaborative work by Modupeola Fadugba. 

empty pool

The performances will take place in this empty pool at the Boys and Girls Club in Newburgh.

The project is being produced by Strongroom, a Newburgh-based nonprofit founded in 2016 by Kelly Schroer that produces pop-up exhibits and programs that incorporate architecture and artwork. “We’ve done projects in a lot of empty spaces in Newburgh: public spaces, a church, a firehouse, residential row houses,” she says.

Fadugba, who was born in Togo and divides her time between Abuja, Nigeria, and Philadelphia, typically creates site-specific works that explore cultural identity, social justice, game theory and the art world. In Dear Young Artist, she presents the pool as “a place of creativity and health,” especially for young Black artists.

The dancers, led by Kim Turner, the founder and choreographer of the Newburgh Performing Arts Academy, will interpret music and a letter scripted and recited by the artist, accompanied by a red ball. The ball must be ignored, becoming “a metaphor for the young artist not to give in to the alluring distraction” and instead to “tread slowly, and continue swimming,” according to the program notes. 

Dear Young Artist

Paintings from Fadugba’s 2016 series, “Dear Young Artist”

“The swim stories I create through art are rooted in education — my synchronized swimmers become role models of what’s possible,” Fadugba explains. “They represent a sort of ideal, about rationality, order and harmony in the world. But the truth is that things fall apart.”


Fadugba with a painting from her series, “Dreams from the Deep End”

This project is part of Fadugba’s global initiative, The Artist’s Algorithm, a series of exhibitions, essays, talks, games, performances, mentorship programs, murals and videos that address education, politics and governance. Her most recent exhibition, Dreams from the Deep End, depicts swimmers exploring collaborative ways of being in the water together, set against the bleak backdrop of America’s racialized — and often tragic — swimming history. 

Schroer met the artist, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware a master’s degree in economics from Delaware, and a master’s degree in education from Harvard, just over a year ago during an online panel discussion. She talked about Strongroom, and Fadugba called her, saying she happened to know this pool was empty, and a collaboration was born. 

Soon thereafter, Schroer contacted Kevin White of the Boys and Girls Club, who happens to be married to Turner, abut the idea. It all came together.

“These projects can be chicken-and-egg: Do you make a piece for a space, or do you have an idea and look for the space?” Schroer says.

How to See Dear Young Artist

There will be performances of Dear Young Artist on Saturday (Nov. 20) at 2, 3, and 4 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club, 285 Liberty St., in Newburgh. Spectators will be invited to enter the shallow end and consider the history of community pools, and who has traditionally been denied access. Time slots can be reserved at dearyoungartist.eventbrite.com, and the performances will also be streamed at instagram.com/strongroom.inc.

Following the performances, an installation of paintings will be on view at the site, along with a projection of the performance, from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 18, with exception of Thanksgiving week. For reservations, email [email protected].

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