Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Dancers and DC Funding

The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) is one of the majority of State Arts Agencies around the country which offers an Artist Fellowship program, one of the few grant opportunities individual artists have to apply for and receive funding without being affiliated with an organizations. For FY15, 91 artists were recommended for funding, and received a combined total of $645,000, with awards ranging from $3,800 to $10,000. Of the 91 artists, 10 were in the dance cohort, artists who identified as dancers, choreographers, dance educators, & interdisciplinary artists who use dance in their work. For the record, only 19 artists applied in the dance cohort. But surely there are more than 19 dancers that reside in the District of Columbia.

The Artist Fellowship Program is the shortest and easiest grant application the DCCAH has. It is not project based and functions more like an award, with the review panel simply looking at your work samples, your artist statement, and one or two other brief narrative answers. There is not a separate pool of money for performers versus choreographers, and there is not a separate pool of money for dance specific work.  There is one pool of money set aside for the Artist Fellowship Program across disciplines, which ultimately is dispersed based on how the applications, and therefore recommendations, breakdown across disciplines. This means it depends on who does, and doesn’t, apply.

So if the application is so easy, what are some of the barriers to access? I would say it is awareness, awareness on the part of the dancers, which is a symptom of a larger issue regarding education and training. While we often focus on the process and product of our dance, we are often left to our own devices to figure out the business end of it, whether as independent contractors, company members, choreographers, and/or artistic directors. And if you don’t know that there is an opportunity to be funded as individual, how would one find out if not told be a mentor or peer?

And while not part of the mission of dance companies, surely one of the indirect benefits could be to be a source of opportunities like this to share with your dancers, which some companies might do already. As with a lot of our endeavors, it often takes a village, and it is no difference when it comes to being aware of opportunities like DCCAH’s Artist Fellowship Program (AFP).

I would say the only other challenge is for dancers who perform with companies to think about and have their own individual artist statement. For the purpose of the AFP grant, our definition of an artist statement is:

“A short statement (typically one page or less) written by the artist, that provides background information and influences on the artist’s body of work, overall artistic philosophy, and a brief history of the artist’s development.”

And this might be more of a challenge with dancers who might primarily perform with and be company members of a dance company, but still not impossible. Because ultimately the strongest applications are ones where a dancers has clearly defined their personal artistic DNA through their artist statement, and it shows in the work samples (usually video) they provide. And as with dance itself, applying for funding takes practice to do well. It often takes experiencing rejection and getting feedback on making a stronger application. But ultimately the benefits outweigh the costs of time and energy.

P.S. If you're interested in applying for the FY16 Artist Fellowship Program?
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