Grants Bolster the Sustainability of Five Black Dance Companies

Images from the IABD website

I am always thrilled to share information about significant funding allocated to the arts, especially resources for building infrastructure and advancing the mission of arts organizations or cultural institutions. That’s why I’m delighted to share the news with my Arts and Culture Connection readers that the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD), in partnership with the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) and with support from the Andrew Mellon Fund, has awarded each of its five founding member companies $100,000 in unrestricted grants, totaling a half million dollars, to be applied to their general operating expenses.

The companies receiving the grants are: Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which was established in 1968 and is based in of Dayton, OH; The Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO!), which was established in 1970 and is based in Philadelphia, PA; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, which was established in 1974 and is based in Denver, CO; Dallas Black Dance Theatre, which was established in 1976 and is based in Dallas, TX; and Lula Washington Dance Theatre, which was established in 1980 and is based in Los Angeles, CA.

These dance companies have created access and opportunity for Black Dance artists, at-risk youth, and have helped to shape and develop leading administrators, arts leaders, choreographers, companies, and dancers for more than five decades. The grants will enable these dance companies, which operate facilities, programs and schools in African-American neighborhoods across the United States, the opportunity o pursue greater innovation, both organizationally and artistically, and provide freedom for the organizations’ leadership to do what they deem is most effective to create the art and build audiences.

IABD partnered with NFF to pilot MOVE, a four year initiative, which began in 2017. MOVE, which stands for Managing Organizational Vitality and Edurance, is a capitalization project that seeks to advance beyond conversation the importance of equity in dance, based on strategic financial planning and action. Through training, NFF seeks to provide the methodology and resources to strengthen the financial and organizational health of the IABD membership

Denise Saunders Thompson, President and CEO of IABD, shared additional points about the significance of these grants:  “Despite their creative excellence and international acclaim, many smaller and mid-sized Black dance companies have had to come to terms with inadequate capitalization and other business challenges. In addition to providing these companies with operating investments, we are also collaborating around financial planning and organizational development strategies and training with the Nonprofit Finance Fund, who have been wonderful partners.”

The grants will not only allow these companies to renew their efforts to fulfill their mission, but also the opportunity to “build a bridge directly to IABD’s mission of sustaining the visibility, connection, and reach of dance by people of African ancestry and origin,” Ms. Saunders Thompson added.

I worked with many of these companies in the early 1980s, which I write about in my first book, Invitation to the Party. They participated in a program called Big Bold Black in Brooklyn at The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center, under the direction of executive director Larry Phillips. It was a celebration of Black Dance companies from around the country. I am so happy that many of these companies are still performing more than 30 years later!

I believe MOVE is an important program that will help secure the future of these critical dance institutions for generations to come. As do all arts organizations, these companies persevered, despite needing the financial support to grow and remain competitive. I am encouraged that IABD, NFF and the Andrew Mellon Fund are making it possible for these organizations to receive assistance that will allow them to continue to build bridges to the community, reaching and developing prospective audiences. Congratulations to the grantees!