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Funding for DANCE.

Government patronage of the arts actually began over sixty-four years ago. What sources are available to companies and choreographers today?

Private support from wealthy individuals was essential to pioneering American choreographers and dancers as their art form developed between the two world wars. Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, and George Balanchine, among others, depended on wealthy patrons as well as on grueling cross-country tours and occasional ventures into Broadway and later Hollywood. But a revolutionary idea emerged during the Great Depression in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt--the notion that artists are workers and deserve to be paid by the government for the jobs they do. On April 8, 1935, Roosevelt signed the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act, authorizing what eventually became the Works Projects Administration. The main premise of the WPA was that artists should be paid to do what they were trained to do.

Helen Tamiris, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, Katherine Dunham, and Ruth Page were among those who produced new work under the auspices of the WPA. In some cases artists were sponsored in performances of existing work, including Graham, Hanya Holm, and Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan. The dance and theater components of the WPA were disbanded in 1939, when Congress decided that radical art was mining the country and that government sponsorship was creating hotbeds of Communism.

Another brief flurry of government activity in arts sponsorship occurred in 1940, one year before the United States entered World War II. Roosevelt saw the need to counter anti-American propaganda in Latin America; Nelson Rockefeller, whose official title was Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, was charged with developing short-term exchange initiatives. In 1941 he approached his friend Kirstein about sending a ballet company on a goodwill tour of the region.

American Ballet Caravan was created for the purpose, and the government agreed to underwrite all operating expenses if Kirstein would take care of production costs. The dancers were recruited from Kirstein's defunct Ballet Caravan, Balanchine's defunct American Ballet, and advanced students from their School of American Ballet. It is important to note that their companies had folded because Edward Warburg, a major backer, had withdrawn his patronage in 1938. It was for this tour that Balanchine created Ballet Imperial and Concerto Barocco, major works and his first ballets in pure dance form. American Ballet Caravan performed throughout Latin America for twenty-eight weeks at a cost of $100,000--the first example of an American government's support of dance.

The next federal patronage was again motivated by international politics, not an informed love of art. In 1951 and 1952, the State Department funded two short cultural festivals in Berlin to counteract the influence of the Soviets in occupied Germany. One of the highlights of the 1952 festival was the appearance of New York City Ballet, which performed to rave reviews. Two years later, in a letter written July 27, 1954, to the House Committee on Appropriations, President Dwight D. Eisenhower requested $5 million to "stimulate the presentation abroad by private firms and groups of the best American industrial and cultural achievements in order to demonstrate the dedication of the United States to peace and human well-being and to offset worldwide Communist propaganda charges that the United States has no culture." This peacetime proposal from a war hero was to have enormous positive impact on our dance companies, and was later a crucial influence on legislation to create the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. The 83rd Congress approved Eisenhower's request, and the president's Emergency Fund for International Affairs was created, with $2,250,000 allocated for the performing arts. This was the first time in the history of American public policy that choreographers, composers, playwrights, and their works were systematically funded for export.

The first company to tour was the Jose Limon Company (November 1954), with performances in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Montevideo. Southeast Asia was an area where America wanted to have a presence during the Cold War, and from October 1955 to February 1956, Graham and her company toured Burma, India, Pakistan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Ceylon. The Limon and Graham tours had a significant impact at home and abroad. The American embassy sent a message to the State Department: "Limon Company top artistic and personal success." Prime Minister U Nu of Burma was very direct: "Artistes like Miss Graham can very effectively contribute toward international goodwill and therefore are a potent force for peace."

Decisions on which groups would tour were made by a dance panel that included, at different times through 1962, Kirstein, Agnes de Mille, Emily Coleman, Walter Terry, Lucia Chase, Doris Humphrey, Martha Hill, Margaret Lloyd, Lillian Moore, and Hanya Holm. Highlights of the program in its first decade included tours of the Soviet Union by American Ballet Theatre (1960) and NYCB (1962) and a tour of Australia and the Far East (1962) of a company headed by Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade.

Many of these companies survived difficult financial times as a result of this patronage. In addition, fame and praise overseas earned attention at home. When Kennedy Center legislation was under discussion in 1968 during the Johnson Administration and finally passed (then called the National Cultural Center), the triumphs of Graham, Limon, and NYCB were cited as examples of the power of the arts and of the importance of our homegrown products. When the creation of national endowments for the arts and for the humanities was under discussion in Congress, the success of government-sponsored performing arts abroad proved persuasive. Passage of NEA and NEH legislation in 1965 signaled new recognition and acknowledgment of our choreographers, composers, playwrights, painters, sculptors, and writers; Eisenhower's Emergency Fund had sown the seeds for a harvest.

Today, foundations play a large role in arts funding. There were only 185 foundations in 1938; in 1999, after extensive changes in income and inheritance taxes, the number is 41,500. The Ford Foundation became the first national private patron of the performing arts, after beginning a five-year study in 1957 of arts organizations and schools. In 1959 the foundation began giving scholarships for advanced schooling in New York and San Francisco to talented young ballet students. In December 1963, it gave $7,756,750 to various ballet endeavors. Two companies were major beneficiaries: NYCB received $200,000 a year for ten years, and San Francisco Ballet received $644,000 over a ten-year period. (Other companies that received Ford money were Utah Ballet, Houston Ballet, and the National Ballet in Washington, D.C.; the Joffrey Ballet received funding the following year.)

The foundation was immediately accused of favoring Balanchine and his proteges, of sadly neglecting the rest of American dance while putting forward a particular aesthetic at the expense of divergent and original perspectives. Walter Terry protested the "flagrant favoritism" of the "shockingly one-sided grant." De Mille, who had been turned down three times by the Ford Foundation, was absolutely furious and felt that Balanchine was "being encouraged to imprint his viewpoint on every area of American, dance."

Since the creation of the NEA in 1965, foundation support for dance companies has increased. For the first time in the United States, public funding for domestic activity was awarded by a peer panel, to be given on the basis of merit. There were grants for dance companies, individual choreographers, special projects, touting, and arts education. Many grants were given to be matched by the private sector, and no money was awarded to companies without a tax-exempt status, under Section 501c(3) of the tax code. The results were manifold: Many choreographers created companies with 501c(3) status; dance began to have a presence in communities all over the country; and foundations, corporations, and individuals were encouraged to support the arts in unprecedented numbers.

Today, in 1999, the NEA has survived serious battles dealing with censorship and mistrust. The period from 1989 (when controversy about visual artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano erupted) to around 1996 was marked by serious cuts for all programs. There was also significant restructuring of the entire agency. With a new climate of opinion in Congress, there is now hope that the NEA will be able to get more money in the future, and that judgments about good and bad art will be made only by expert panels. The application calendar for the NEA in 2000 shows five categories: Creating and Presentation, Planning and Stabilization (Services to the Field), Heritage and Preservation, Education and Access. Grants are awarded to be matched, usually by the private sector.

Where do choreographers and company directors go to get money in the year 2000? The NEA is only a small part of the picture, although an important one. Other sources are local (mostly block grants) and state arts agencies, grass-roots organizations, foundations, corporations, individuals; and local institutions, from schools and tax shelters to organizations in other disciplines.

Perhaps the first step for anyone who is forming a company and seeking funding is to check with groups such as Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts for advice on filing for 501c(3) tax-exempt status. Then select a board sufficiently prominent and wealthy to provide money, advice, and visibility. Someone should be hired to manage the company so that the artistic director can concentrate on artistic matters. (If the board cannot provide a suitable salary as a starting point, money should be found in the community.) Marketing and public relations are other essential services that should be turned over to the best people available.

What kinds of projects are possible for the company and for the choreographer? Are suitable partners available in the community? It would be enormously valuable to check out www.fdncenter.org, the Web site of the Foundation Center, which also has major offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. A trip to either of these offices would be well worth the expense, as their trained staffs are astute about matching money to projects.

Local and state arts agencies offer workshops and resources, and they actually give out more money than the NEA. It is important to take the time to find out how things work in the home environment, and to become an informed advocate for the arts and arts funding. The NEA is currently working on a Web site to link with their own (which should be available this month) to highlight federal funds available from unconventional and unexpected sources, including the Department of Education and the Department of Justice. Local and state government agencies might also have unexpected funding for a variety of projects.

Artists abroad are now faced with similar funding dilemmas as governments around the world cut back on arts support. Many countries now. look to the U.S. to see how we have achieved our blend of private and public backing. Although we don't have enough money here, we do have a valuable entrepreneurial spirit and many possible sources of funds. Let us hope the twenty-first century holds new promise for the arts. Funding will always be difficult in dance, but courage, knowledge, quality, openness, curiosity, imagination, and hard work will always open up possibilities for survival.

Dr. Naima Prevots is chairman of the Performing Arts Department at American University, in Washington, D. C.
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Title Annotation:federal aid to the arts
Author:Prevots, Naima
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Words:1884
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