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Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company: using business skills to finance the arts.

Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Co., founded in 1964 by Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury, is a contemporary miracle. "It's extraordinary for a modern dance company to exist into a 28th season," said Francis McGovern, new executive director with the company who came out of retirement from a career of fund-raising for the arts to move to Utah and perform his financial magic for the dance company.

The company performs many dances choreographed by Ririe and Woodbury, as well as numbers created by guest choreographers. "New pieces go into the repertoire every season," said McGovern. "A wide variety of works have become audience favorites." Both artistic directors are tenured professors of dance at the University of Utah. They are heavily involved in dance education on both the local and the national level.

The company has six professional dancers, four of whom have master of fine arts (MFA) degrees. All have their bachelor's degrees. "They're all capable not only of dancing, but of teaching what they know."

As a young man, McGovern worked with the Children's Theater Co. in Minneapolis. He earned a degree in political science from the University of Chicago and then embarked on a 20-year career that involved more and more fund-raising for the arts. When he left the Children's Theater, he was a production manager, handling contracts and tours. He subsequently worked in such cities as Hartford, Boston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, and New York.

"This administrative position is responsible for all the financial and logistical affairs of the company, but a big part of it is raising money," said McGovern.

Two years ago, McGovern decided he'd done enough. "I'd had a dream of having a farm when I'd saved up enough money," he said. He bought a farm in northern Minnesota. To support the farm, he and his wife raised lean lamb, which they sold directly to fine restaurants and gourmet groceries.

But they needed more income than they could make from the farm, so McGovern looked for a "real job." His resume landed at Ririe-Woodbury, and he was then recruited.

The Perfect Environment

"What drew me here was the status Shirley and Joan have in the dance world," said McGovern. "They're very active in building relationships in funding and political and artistic areas. These skills are valuable to me when I'm out trying to support the company."

The second thing that drew him was the quality of the company's work. "I knew it was something I could be artistically proud of raising funds for," he said.

The third thing that attracted him was Salt Lake City and Utah itself. "Given the size of the community and the population," he said, "the support for the arts is mind-boggling." He said that it is rare to find three modern dance companies, a ballet company, an orchestra, an opera company, museums, and numerous theaters supported in any one city.

"Audiences come out," he said. "There's corporate support. Foundations are committed to supporting the arts. The state is committed to funding for arts education in the schools and supporting arts organizations."

The Bottom Line

The company earns slightly over half of its operating costs through ticket sales and touring fees. "One of my goals is to eventually earn about 70 percent," said McGovern. "It's disquieting to depend on government donations or corporate largesse. If economic problems come up, arts get cut quick."

The company earns some money in ways that are not directly performance-oriented. "We made an educational video about dance that we sell to libraries and schools, and we're producing another one," McGovern said. "We sell souvenirs, and we sell advertising in our programs. And, of course, we get royalties from our work that's used by other companies."

In addition, there's a whole list of potential donors, ranging from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Arts Council, and the Salt lake Arts Council, to foundations and trusts in Utah and around the country. "We also go to national corporations, especially ones that have a presence here," McGovern said.

The dance company does individual fund-raising as well. "We'll do five fund-raising events this year," said McGovern. "We have to be imaginative."

Barbara R. Hume is president of Tristan Gareth Inc., a Provo-based communications services company.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hume, Barbara
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:709
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