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What the NYC Cultural Plan Means for the Dance Community
Last month, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled Create NYC: A Cultural Plan for All New Yorkers. Stemming from two years of research into arts organizations throughout the five boroughs and feedback from over 200,000 New Yorkers, the plan seeks to diversify cultural institutions and increase funding within underserved communities.
So what does this entail for dance artists? While there is nothing specifically dance-related in the plan, many dance companies and artists within marginalized and lower-income communities stand to benefit from increased funding.
Here are the key takeaways:
Nothing too surprising comes out of the research findings, which highlight some of the major work we have to do as far as making arts institutions more equitable.
- Cultural participation is 20% higher among highest income residents vs. lowest income residents.
- While 67% of NYC residents identify as people of color, only 38% of employees at cultural institutions are people of color.
- 78% of board members are white.
- 75% of artists support their income with jobs unrelated to their art.
- 97% of survey respondents say arts and culture is important to the quality of life in NYC.
As far as overall city funding for the arts, there's good news: The city's budget for 2018 arts funding increased by $18.5 million, to a total of $188.1 million. (Although compared to Paris' $3.3 billion annual arts and culture budget, this number still seems low.)
Is Dance Being Represented?
During Dance/NYC's yearly symposium in March, the organization hosted a conversation about the future of dance in NYC, as well as a presentation on the NYC Cultural Plan. So it does seem like the city is trying to listen to the dance community. However, choreographer Joanna Haigood is the only dance artist appointed to the Citizen's Advisory Committee, a group that advises the DCLA during the "development and implementation of the cultural plan." Although Haigood has been involved with NYC's Dancing in the Streets for over 20 years, she relocated to San Francisco in 1979 and founded Zaccho Dance Theatre (according to their website, she is a SF-based artist.) In a city chock-full of incredible full-time dance artists, it's curious that Haigood is the sole dance advisor.
Arts Funding for Low-Income Neighborhoods
Part of the plan's immediate action includes $1.5 million dedicated to cultural programming in low-income areas, as well as direct grants for underrepresented groups. This allocation could directly affect dance organizations in need, particularly those located in the outer boroughs. An additional $4.5 million will go towards support for Cultural Institution Groups (the group of 33 public museums and arts groups who operate in city-owned buildings or city-owned land, such as Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Public Theater and Queens Theatre), with $1 million specifically for those in low-income communities.
Direct Support for Individual Artists
The DCLA plans to provide $750,000 in much-needed grants as immediate support for individual artists. The People's Cultural Plan—a 17-page document drawn up by artists and activists in direct response to NYC's plan—demands a much more aggressive solution for artist support, calling for rent freezes and legislation defining rights and wages for arts employees, independent contractors and freelance artists across DCLA-funded organizations. The People's Plan addresses the problems of unpaid labor, gentrification and the exploitation of artists, all of which is absent from Create NYC.
A Diversity Mandate for the Cultural Workforce
One of the biggest changes coming out of the plan is the proposal to link funding to diversity. Institutions who receive city funding will be held accountable for the diversity of their employees and board members, and what they're doing to become more equitable. As of yet, it's unclear how exactly this will translate to funding. The plan will also help boost diversity at arts organizations through shorter-term projects, like a $740,000 professional development program at select institutions to help junior level staff grow their leadership skills, and continuing support for the CUNY Cultural Corps, which places undergraduates into paid internships at arts organizations.
Institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be held accountable for increasing the diversity of their staff. Here, Gallim Dance at the Met's Temple of Dendur. Photo by Ani Coller.
Support for Disabled Audiences & Artists
The dance community has long discussed how we can better include disabled artists and audiences. Create NYC has set aside $2.2 million for grant programs to help create more accessible arts and culture venues.
Use #CreateNYC to join the discussion on social media and visit www.nyc.gov/culture for more information on how to stay engaged with the plan.
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country:
When a new director began transforming Atlanta Ballet a couple of years ago, longtime dancer Alessa Rogers decided to finally explore her dream of dancing in Europe. "I always had this wanderlust," she says. She wasn't set on a particular city or company, but thought learning French would be fun. She began her research that September, making note of repertoire and the number of dancers as well as which companies employed foreign, non–European Union dancers. "I saw that Ballet du Rhin was looking for dancers," says Rogers. "They also had a new director coming in, so I thought it could be an opportunity." After sending a video, Rogers traveled during her layoff week to take company class. She was offered a job on the spot.
Uprooting and moving out of the country, far away from your support system, language and customs, is not something to take lightly. While it can push you as an artist and be an exciting opportunity for personal growth, working as a dancer in a foreign country comes with its challenges. Lots of research and an adventurous spirit are required.
Justin Lynch is surprisingly nonchalant about the struggles of being a full-time lawyer and a professional dancer. "All dancers in New York City are experts at juggling multiple endeavors," he says. "What I'm doing is no different from what any other dancer does—it's just that what I'm juggling is different."
While we agree that freelance dancers are pro multitaskers, we don't really buy Lynch's claim that what he does isn't extraordinary. In fact, we're pretty mind-boggled by the career he's built for himself.
At the annual Gala de Danza in Los Cabos, Mexico, the lineup of performers is usually pretty typical gala fare: You can expect celebrity performers like Lil Buck, reality stars like Ballet West's Beckanne Sisk and "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Tate McRae, plus principals from top companies like New York City Ballet's Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht.
What's absolutely not typical? The venue.
At 5'10" I felt like an ant in the studio with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. The San Francisco-based company is full of statuesque dancers whose passion is infectious. Every story was told not only through their movement, but through the expression on their faces and their connection to one another.
We talked to artistic director Alonzo King about his love of collaborations and why he thinks politicians need to dance more.