NCCAKRON: BACKGROUND & HISTORY
In recent years, the American dance community has experienced diminishing resources of time, space and financial support for the creation of new work. In recognition of this creative crisis, and in response to a 2013 query from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation about “big transformational ideas” for Akron, Ohio, DANCECleveland embarked on an invigorating and exhilarating exploration of the possibility of establishing a national center for choreography in Northeast Ohio.
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The concept took flight in October 2013, when DANCECleveland, with funding from the Knight Foundation, convened a group of nationally-recognized dance, arts administration and academic leaders for Making Dance Work, a Blue Ribbon Panel at The University of Akron. Through panel discussions, presentations, meetings and informal conversations, the panelists and other participants explored the many issues and benefits related to establishing a center for choreography in Northeast Ohio. In light of the many resources available in the region, the interest in the community and the leadership of a dance presenter, the panel expressed great enthusiasm for the concept and encouraged further study.
Buoyed by the imprimatur of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s endorsement, plans were developed for a rigorous feasibility study exploring the idea of establishing a new national center for choreography. With generous funding from the Knight Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation the study began in earnest in summer 2014.
The study was led by Pamela Young, Executive Director of DANCECleveland; Janus Small, Principal, Janus Small Associates; and Jennifer Calienes, independent consultant and Founding Director of the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) at Florida State University. Engaging stakeholders from across many different constituent groups, the Study Team articulated a vision and purpose for the proposed center, explored possible operational models, identified physical needs and possible resources to meet those needs and developed a curatorial process that would be used to guide the selection of artists for and the management of the pilot residencies.
Through this multi-faceted approach, the Study Team determined that there was a need for a new center for choreography, there were abundant physical resources available in Northeast Ohio to support a center, there was a desire for it to be located in Northeast Ohio, and there was an interest in the national funding community to support such a center.
The proposed center was envisioned to be launched as an independent 501(c)(3) organization housed at The University of Akron, where students and faculty would benefit from the presence of inspired choreographers and their talented companies, and residency artists would benefit from access to the University’s world-class dance facilities. The operating model and staffing for the Center were predicated on the Center hosting at least six residencies each year by choreographers selected through a clearly defined and thoughtful process.
In March 2015, after receiving the preliminary work of the Feasibility Study, the Knight Foundation made the unexpected announcement that it would support the formation of the National Center for Choreography to be located at The University of Akron with a fund of $5 million to be established over five years.
This made the concept both feasible and sustainable, and shifted the study’s focus from “Could it be possible?” to “What is the best way to proceed?” Basic organizational matters, including filing for nonprofit status, finalizing a MOU between UA and the Center, and establishing a Board of Directors were completed in quick succession, and a press conference announcing the establishment of the Center and the Knight Foundation’s support was held at UA in May 2015.
Three Pilot Residencies tested the curatorial selection process as well as the more tangible aspects of managing the residencies. Utilizing a curated panel selection process, Carrie Hanson (founder/Artistic Director of The Seldoms in Chicago) and John Jasperse (founder and Artistic Director of Thin Man Dance in New York City) were selected for pilot residencies in summer 2015. In addition, two stages of a creative residency with Camille A. Brown and Dancers, that was funded by the Joyce Foundation, were hosted in summer 2014 and January 2015.
Each residency was evaluated by the participating artists and staff through interviews, informal conversations and written comments. While generally very positive, the evaluations provided valuable suggestions for future residencies.
As the pilot residencies and the preliminary organizational efforts concluded, the Study Team made its final recommendations, which focused on Vision, Curatorial Focus, Stakeholders and Potential Stakeholders, Governance, Staffing, Space and Start-up Processes. Incorporating the findings from the study, the interviews and the pilot residencies, they form a firm basis upon which the National Center for Choreography-Akron was launched. As stated in Mind The Gap: Artist Residencies and Dance, the report prepared by the Alliance of Artists Communities in 2011, “…If dance is to flourish, it is essential that the field of residencies provide greater opportunities and resources for the development of new dance.”
The new National Center for Choreography-Akron located at The University of Akron, with its bold vision, thoughtful plans, access to world-class facilities and significant start-up funding, is uniquely positioned to provide those badly-needed “greater opportunities and resources for the development of new dance.”