Dance/NYC 2017 Symposium: DanceUSA’s Engaging Dance Audiences

Dance/NYC 2017 Symposium: DanceUSA’s Engaging Dance Audiences


Up next we will have Dance/USA’s Engaging
Dance Audiences: Audience Engagement is Community Engagement. This session will be introduced by Amy Fitterer,
executive Director of Dance/USA. We are so happy she’s here today. And moderated by Suzanne Callahan, founder
of Callahan Consulting for the Arts. And they’re going to be joined by grantees
from Dance/USA’s Engaging Audiences Program. It’s a fabulous panel, we are all lucky
to be here with it. And with that I’m going to go ahead and
hand it over to Amy. Hello there everybody. So it is my pleasure to introduce Dance/USA’s
program called Engaging Dance Audiences and this is a really interesting style. I’m going to try and recognize everybody
in the room here. So Engaging Dance Audiences was first founded
in 2009 and with the focus on recognizing on how people were engaging with dance, buying
tickets, going to shows was drastically changing. And then it’s changing for so many reasons
and it continues to change today. Engaging Dance Audience’s started out with
a focus on innovation and it was really looking to try and instigate a small group, there
were nine grantees in that first round who got pretty large grants over $100,000 each,
to do experimental innovative projects and changing the way we think about engaging with,
connecting with, developing relationships, bringing in people in your community to interact
and understand our art. The second round was the first round that
I, with Suzanne, had the opportunity to oversee. We decided to then do a thing Cameron at the
time called “The Settlers”. So round one and Ben Cameron, who at the time
was the program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. He said round one was like the pioneers, we
sent out the pioneers. But round two let’s do the settlers. They need to take what happened in round one
and learn from it, adapt it, modify it, so we ended up having 20 grantees. They received smaller amounts but we wanted
to reach more people and get them playing around with those ideas. During that time period, Dance/USA adopted
the core values of equity, inclusion, and diversity. And what that meant i that we had to take
everything that Dance/USA does, externally and internally, through these core values. It’s a constant ongoing, learning, reevaluating,
changing experience for Dance/USA. So Suzanne who was managing the program came
into my office and said, okay these are our core values, we need to take a look at engaging
dance audiences. So Suzanne and I put our brains together and
we spoke with Ben Cameron, Program Director at the time of Doris Duke. We decided to 1) remove the membership requirement,
so you don’t need to be a member to apply to engage in dance audiences. In that round three there was financial support
available to some of the grantees to become members. Because once they got a grant we wanted them
to be fully engaging with us. Another requirement was that we removed or
lowered a financial barrier. So we allowed organizations with budgets as
low as $150,000 to apply. Now some of you might go, that’s still way
to big and that’s very true. That is something we are still really still
struggling with. Suzanne and I talk about it a lot is how do
we give a grant which could come $40,000-$60,000 all in with GenUp to an organization whose
budget might be $70,000. We have some challenges around that, so we
keep working on it. The other thing that we did is that we allowed
fiscally sponsored dance groups to apply. Because we know that there are so many dance
organizations in the United States that are working without their own 501(c)3 and they’re
doing it really well. They’re touring around the country and they’re
getting really great awards. Who cares if they don’t have their own 501(c)3’s? So why are we making that such a big deal? It was fabulous because the Doris Duke Charitable
Foundation allowed us to have fiscally sponsored groups apply to us. Wo then also changed out panel, we changed
our funding guidelines. So the panel was majority individuals of color,
people with disabilities, which was a requirement as part of our program because what we were
also looking to do was fund organizations that had a proven track record of reaching
audiences of color, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community. We didn’t want an organizations applying
to us who has never done anything like that before and then get a grant to try it out. We wanted to support those organizations that
had been already doing it and doing it well. And then come in and refine and push that
work further. So all those changes means that round three
grantees were a completely different group of grantees that Dance/USA had ever seen before. And they got to come to our conference and
we are sitting there and we look at the room and think “wow, this is really awesome!”. This is a possibility for Dance/USA to challenge
ourselves of breaking down the barriers that we create to engage with us. So we now have been renewed for round four
and we’re keeping a lot of the same criteria and changes from round 3. Because one, we found that there was a lot
of success but we also felt that you can’t do something once, you have to keep doing
it and learning from it and tweaking and modifying it and growing, constantly. So with that, one of the things that we have
been talking a lot about is community versus audience. I don’t know if Suzanne remembers this but
we once had a conversation a few years ago and there was a book or something being written
and I was like maybe what we’re really talking about is community engagement. This was like four years ago. And I think Suzanne said, I don’t know I
think we need to be a little more specific about audience. And both of us have grown over the past several
years and now we’re realizing there isn’t a fine line when you’re talking about community
or audience. The people in your community are the ones
we want to know about our art, to find themselves in our art, to want to be connected with us
whether they are already part of your definition of audience or not. And so thus, we are now calling this breakout
session “Audience Engagement is Community Engagement”. So with that I am going to stop talking because
this is not a session about me or Dance/USA, this is about hearing from our panelists and
some of the projects they have done and their learning. I am going to turn it over to Suzanne Callahan
who has been working really closely with me since I became director in 2011, so six years
now, on this program. She manages it to the tee and I have a lot
of confidence in her and it’s my pleasure to have her moderate this session. Thank you. Thank you Amy, and thank you all for being
here. Right of in terms of credit I want to say
that my evolution goes to Donna Walker-Kuhne on the whole audience. Thank you. So let’s start out with a question. No wrong answers here, there are index cards
if you are the note taking typee. How many here are dance artists who create
or produce work? About half. And how many are presenters or educators? We’ve got about a third to a half as well. So when you think about your work connecting
with, engaging with communities and/or audiences, however you define it. What does this notion of community mean to
you. Take about thirty seconds and think about
what community means to you because community means a lot of things. And then take thirty more seconds and share
with a neighbor and we’ll time it with you so don’t worry. No wrong answers. The introverts don’t have to say a word
and the extroverts get to share a few thoughts with us. And the extroverts can share some of the introvert’s
thoughts. So thirty seconds to think, thirty to share,
and then thirty more seconds to share. The extroverts are already sharing, okay so
go and I’ll give you thirty seconds. *Indistinct chatter and sharing* So switch sides and let the other person talk
now. Okay, who would like to share some of their
thoughts on what this notion of community means? Anybody at all. You can shout it out, you don’t have to
raise your hand we can just popcorn this. People that are with you. Where you live. The people who support your work. People that have some shared agreement. Oh you and I would get along so well! Other thoughts? People who you live with, people who support
your work, people that you are with. People who could have an interest in what
we do. Well so this notion of what community means
and again my main connection goes back to something Donna said years ago. But really pondering this question is become
a big part of EDA and it led in part of today’s session. So community, broadly speaking, is a group
of people who share something, have something in common. So what we’ll talk about today is their
shared experience either with or through dance. Could I just share a few quotes from you. From James Baldwin. James Baldwin said “it was books that taught
me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all
the people who were alive, who had ever been alive. You think that your pain and your heart break
are unprecedented in this world, but then you read.” I think we could adapt that quote, “but
then you dance”, “but then you experience dance”, or “then you see yourself”,
or “then you feel something within yourself through the artform of dance”. Baldwin also said, “the role of the artist
is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious
of things that you do not see”. A letterer and writer these days named Jeff
Chang, who wrote the book “Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post Civil-Rights
America” says constantly as he tours and in his writing, “how do we change the way
we see”. Well deep audience engagement, like what you’ll
hear about today from our artists and our panel, including Donna, is about helping change
the ways in which audiences see, what they see, how they see it, how they feel about
it. And I would also offer up that we as art practitioners
can change the ways in which we see our audiences and our broader communities around us. Collectively EDA in rounds three and four
has strived to connect with artists and with communities in a world that is pretty complicated. We live now in a world in which identity can
be a pride in unity or of shame and fear, as I’ve learned from Marjani preparing for
this session. Where place can mean home and neighborhood
or it can mean displacement and gentrification. Where our actions as arts practitioners and
our words in the environments we create, in our theaters, in our residencies, in our neighborhoods
around us can send strong signals to people as do the people we put on stage or the people
we don’t put on stage. Whether or not they belong, whether or not
they belong, whether or not they are invited in. The societal problems persist but so do the
contributions of visionary artists like the ones on this panel and people who support
them. Also like the ones on this panel. So these are choreographers who make timeless
connections through what we do share. Whether it is through social dance or it is
through hair or hair stories. The kinds of things we all have in common. These panelists are here to share some deep
observations about that work. Today’s provoked thought about what community
means and to build and nurture it. It is not to leave with a set of how-tos. We start today with Donna Walker-Kuhne, President
of Walker International. Who has been helping artists and organizations
build deep and authentic relationships with their audiences for decades. And whose book, “Invitation to the Party”
is a treatise in story form of how to do that work. We then go to Marjani Forte-Saunders, who
is an independent choreographer and who worked formerly with Urban Bush Women as a facilitator. UBW, being a company who through the leadership
of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, as our round three panelists wrote the book on audience engagement. We then go to Indira Goodwine, the Managing
Director of Camille A. Brown & Dancers, whose trilogy of work around identity is echoed
through a spectrum of audience engagement activities, that takes that dialogue and those
feelings and that sense of identity directly into the audiences within who they work. Around the theaters, around the city, and
around other cities to where they work. Thank you. Good Afternoon. Wow, what a great great group. I feel so much energy, I’m surprised the
ceiling is still here. But that’s what happens when you get a group
of dancers together. Absolutely. I am so happy to be here, thank you so much
for this opportunity to talk about my favorite topic in life which is dance! I can’t say that everywhere I go. So what I want to talk about is how we frame
the idea of community and how we develop tactics and then i’ll just share a couple of case
studies on how I’ve been able to try to tap into building awareness and support for
dance. First of all, we have to think about building
on answers how important it is to frame the understanding of what in the product. I think the biggest problem working with dance,
and I started in 1982 as the managing director of the (?) Performing Arts Center, if anyone
has even heard of that. So that’s a long time ago. ANd then i went on to be the marketing director
for Dance Theatre of Harlem for nine years which was a absolutely incredible. All this time working with dance in various
forms and different clients. What I have found is the number one obstacle,
people didn’t understand the product. They just didn’t know what I’m going to
see. When you say modern dance does that mean no
music and it looks like people are in pain? If it’s balet, I don’t know the story,
I get lost. So of course when we talk about indigenous
dance then that audience is only the community that knows it exists, african dance for instance,
salvation, even Asian. So I’m fine, but constantly the most important
thing is the product. What is the dance? What do we do? How do we do that? So we look at it internally, you’re thinking
about building a community? Who do you have? Always do an assessment. If any of you are in the business of making
dance there is someone coming to support you. So who is that? And what are those like minded constituents? That’s how you start to take those building
steps into really building your community, and then is it just audiences who come to
you? Or do you go to them? We live in a very mobile society so everyone
is not necessarily waiting to buy a ticket to go see a dance performance maybe you might
want to go to where they are and create something really interesting and unique. I think there is an internal and external
way of looking at how we are developing our audiences, so that along with defining it
and not dumbing down not talking about trying to simplify the work, im talking about how
you illuminate the work so that people don’t feel like there’s something personally wrong
with them because they don’t understand what they see. I remember the first dance performance I saw
was five years old in chicago. I saw Swan Lake and it was Maya Plisetskaya
who at the time was the reigning ballerina and when I saw her I just said “that’s what
i’m going to be, I’m going to be a dancer, I’m going to be like her”. It never occurred to me that this was a field
that at the time there were few ballerinas of color. I just saw something that was incredibly beautiful
and magical. And my mom, for some reason, thought that
I should go to see it. From that point I was fortunate to be in an
environment that continued to celebrate and support dance. I performed in an African dance company for
many years in Chicago. I think that without all of that exposure
I wouldn’t have the comfort and access that i have in dance today. So you have think think about the community
you are trying to build. What access do they have? What understanding do they have? Did they go to see dance as a child? Did they understand it in school? What does that mean? I don’t think that our dance audiences have
to be the traditional dance audiences that we’ve always always seen. I think that it can anyone and everyone. But, we have to be strategic. How do we develop them? That’s when the word community comes in because
then you start to look at these shared interests so that their point of intrigue is building
audiences for dance. So as i mentioned, not everyone is going to
take that with subscription, not everyone is going to fly over city center, not everyone
is going to rejoice. But, they are going to the library to read
books, they’re in college, they’re going to the bookstore, they’re going to whole
foods. So dance has to be where the people are. That’s how we start to build up audiences. So we put legs on it and dance has legs, so
let’s put lets and keep them moving so that when we think about who are the people that
I want, where do they live and play? Then we start to frame our community around
them. I also think that we have to have a narrative,
who we talk about building community. It’s difficult to just do it in isolation. So who knew about the show? Me, your mom, your aunt, your cousin. So where is the narrative? What tool do we use? Social media! Believe me! Back in the 80’s we didn’t have social
media, how do we build tools? Word of mouth. I remember working with Larry Phillips and
we’re you know, press release, flyers, that is the extent of what we had. And now, oh my gosh, there’s so much more
than we can utilize so dance should be at the forefront of how are we using social media
to talk about dance, it’s so visual. You don’t have to have a film crew to do
it, you have a phone. That’s all you need. Video tape, you snip it to that and start
to tell the story. So you can start with building the work. What is the theme of the work? Who’s in the work? All of those pieces become ways to create
points of entry. And so you guide this narratives up to the
performance, during the performance, and post performance. So there’s this constant discussion of what
dance means, what it feels like, what it looks like. Then your community is sustainable. We’re not talking about an audience for
one show and then everyone goes home and says “that was lovely”. We’re talking about a sustained effort of
how we’re building community, audiences for dance, follow with every step of the way. That is something we have to be very tactical
about. So I’ve had the good fortune to work with
Dance/USA for i think close to ten years and doing that, I’ve been able to observe how
dance is being developed throughout the country, and certainly the intent is always there. There is always a solid intent to develop
audiences, diverse audiences for dance. Where there’s a challenge is the infrastructure. How do we do it? We’re barely able to put the work up? Costumes we got from costco. So how are we going to building an audience
with what? The infrastructure becomes a real challenge
and that’s why it’s so wonderful to have these programs like EDA. Even if you don’t have EDA’s support,
you start where you are. I am a firm believer of starting where you
are and with what’s in front of you. You look at what you remember of and start
to build your community from that. Whether it’s your church, school, your library,
your community. Women social groups have been fantastic audiences
for dance. Unbelievable. Really really great. I think those things become important. SO just quickly one of the things I did at
New Jersey Performing Arts Center when I started working
there four years ago, we were really struggling with audiences for dance. We were sending about six to seven dance companies
throughout the season. So I thought we need help. So I created celebrate dance advisory committee. I always make sure I use the word celebrate
because this is not some heavy experience. Dance is fantastic. So celebrate dance advisory committee. You can use that if you want. So this celebrate dance committee, they tell
me how they think the best way is to build a community for dance based on where they
stand. Some of them are choreographers, some were
dancers, some were dance critics, some were just people who loved dance. We had yoga instructors also. So when we all get together, there’s this
real magic that emits from the conversation so then we put together a plan. So for the year we can then look at how do
we utilize all the things that are happening in Newark, all the things that touch these
individuals to build communities for dance in a sustained fashion. And so that then leas us to a program called
“Books on the Move” where we read to children about Alvin Ailey in the library, and this
child gets a free book. We’re performing in the colleges that do
panel discussions about cultural diversity and dance. What are the challenges of female choreographers? Then we target to social studies classes. Really being strategic, we have a liturgical
dance workshop that we do throughout the season that helps us focus on our Alvin Ailey mother’s
day annual presentation. ANd those women are so happy at those liturgical
dance workshops, they’re free. We also do regular dance workshops and then
we have our yoga workshops. So we are using as much of what we have in
terms of content to really be able to create this environment and community for dance. And I would just close by saying, Amy started
talking about innovation and I think each of you in this room that should be what you
leave with. How can I be an innovator? How can I really dance tis field of dance? What would that look like fifty years from
now? That’s what I want you to focus on.I want
you to be bold because we dance! What can’t we do? I want you to feel completely empowered to
utilize your best thinking, thinking way up here. Not the easy stuff, stuff that challenges
you and think about this is how i’m really going to sustain my dance audience and make
sure i am increasing the kind of work that I live and breathe for. So I will be watching you. I can’t wait to see what’s going to be
next, the next ten, fifteen, twenty years and I’ll be standing right next to you. Thank you. Thank you very much. I was remised in mentioning, Donna is one
of the technical assistant that advises the grantees. So you can imagine some support from this
woman. Marjani. I’ll just stand up here. Hi everybody, how are you guys? Good afternoon. So I wanna share that I am here not a former
facilitator actually currently work as a facilitator. No it’s okay, it’s good. I work as a facilitator through Urban Bush
Women’s Bold, Builders, Organizers, and Leaders through dane. Meaning that I’m part of the teaching part
of the arm of the organization. I share some of our practices around community
engagements, specifically our Entering, Building and Exiting community workshops. So that’s part of my work also and so I’ll
be speaking to you from that perspective and I’ll also be speaking to you as a choreographer,
as someone who has internalized the practices that I have been training and sharing as a
member of urban Bush Women over the past *mumbles* years. I just want to say how grateful I am to hear
many of Donna’s words some of the ones that stood the most out to me was the notion of
community is that you are community and I want to start there with the idea that I am
community. That was one of the first things that I learned
being a part of urban Bush Women. A thirty year old organization that identifies
itself in its mission as a dance company that tells the untold and under told of disenfranchised
communities through movement of the African Diaspora from a woman centered perspective. That’s me. So that feels really important I think before
we start to talk about or as we talk about community engagement and as we as organizations
look at the way we are interacting with community that we like to defy who we are. How are we made up? What are our histories? What are our cultural perspectives? What are we coming with? What is our background? That is really important and has been important
for Urban Bush Women’s work. The second thing that as I thought about Urban
Bush Women’s work and some of what I’ve internalized with the organization is this
idea of the storyteller. Urban Bush Woman and the work that is coming
out of Urban Bush Women and what the company tours with is the stories that come out of
our communities. Let me be specific about that. When I say our communities, I’m talking
about black folk. The company is predominantly black folk. And it’s important for me to share that
with you really honestly and really forthright because those are not necessarily the folks
who are populating our audiences. So when we talk about audience engagement
is community engagement that right there immediately challenges that statement. And so much of Urban Bush Women’s work in
community engagement started with acknowledging that truth. And realizing that in order to cycle the work
that we’re doing through the communities where those stories are coming from we have
to go beyond the stage in innovative and also holistic and cultural truth kind of ways. We remember how we grew up, we remember what
we did and how we spoke, what we shared, when we had fun, what kind of music we played,
ways that we engaged. We wanted to one: either get those folks in
the audience or continue to allow the work to feed the communities that we are a part
of. It’s one thing to check off boxes and geet
butts in the seats while we really enjoy that and while that’s helpful in many ways. It’s also important to remember that we’re
not constantly pulling stories from communities and taking them out and constantly in sort
of this one way and, you know, transaction. Exactly. Or that the work is really cycling in a way
that continues to nourish our communities in a really full way. So I’ve internalized in my own practice
as a choreographer, especially an experimental choreographer, one of the things that I realized
is okay Urban Bush Women is thirty years old, right? They found early in their practice that their
audiences didn’t necessarily look like them or sound like them. Here we are thirty years later, and it’s
still the case. I don’t know necessarily if that’s because
the artists aren’t doing the work. Surely as we see, there are systemic and institutional
constructs that are connected to why our audiences look like the beauty of this group. My goodness, they’re killing it in here. You look good! There’s a reason why that’s the case and
so considering that there are many constructs that we’re working with or that we’re
working up against. The question becomes how do we do the work
so Urban Bush Women through many different prototypes and evaluations and questions and
hardship. Eventually lands it with the Summer Leadership
Institute. The Summer Leadership Institute is inviting
artists of many different disciplines and forms to come into a room and share practices. Surely Urban Bush Women has a practice that
we also share in that institute, but ultimately that Summer Leadership Institute is to acknowledge
the knowledge in our communities and in the room to continue to build and shares ways
of how do we take on these constructs in a way that is creating progress. Another way that Urban Bush Women has looked
at taking on those constructs is the choreographic centers. Recently, a newer venture in the organization’s
movement so to speak. But that venture’s also looking at the why
is it? How do we continue to cultivate female voices
of color that are working or gender nonconforming voices of color that are working in our fields
and making work. How do we continue to cultivate their information? How do we continue to get them to build to
take a risk? How do we get them to continue make excellent
work and ask the hard questions? Right? So those are some of the ways that Urban Bush
Women has done that worked. Finally, well not quite finally, almost finally. The last thing that I want to talk about,
that I think that I want to push is that Urban Bush Women is a thirty year old company and
I am about five years in my practice, oh seven years, good lord, that’s not a long time. About seven years in my practice as an independent
artist. Those two were apples and oranges. In fact, I think I’m more like a seed coming
out of Urban Bush Women’s Fruit. You know like the fruit came and then the…
i feel like that’s important to note because all of this when we talk about community engagement
is about time and process, it’s a slow crawl right? So sometimes we have our institutions asking
us to check these boxes. How many people did you have? How many people were black? How many people were brown? How many people were white? White/Latino? How many people were Black/Latino? Right? Census? Anybody check those boxes? When applying for positions at universities
they ask me if I’m White, Latino, or Black/Latino. You know what I’m saying? Really complicated things. Those are institutions constantly asking us
to fit into these boxes that do not fit into our realities. So how do we continue to push up our goals
against those things? And the truth is, that’s a slow crawl. And Urban Bush Women’s work, while that
what some of them might see us and go “oh my god”, “they write the book on community
engagement”. Well the thing is Urban Bush Women was questioning
that idea of outreach before engagement was ever being used in that way. And that in itself was a slow crawl that came
in partnership with work we were doing with Junebug Productions in New Orleans. Through a long three month engagement residency
that show is exactly how much we don’t know. So you have know that we’re going to bump,
we’re going to fall, and we’re going to make lots of mistakes as did I making a three
year work looking at…okay… I gotta stop. Can i just say one last thing? This is hard, this is different than on the
phone. *laughs*. The last thing I was going to say is that
I loved that Donna said “Think way up here, go way up here” I love that. Can I add to that? That if we’re talking about community engagement,
we think way down here, that we go way down here in the conversation. Continue to use ourselves as our greatest
resource. Thank you. Everybody ready? Thank you Marjani, thank you Donna. Um, this is very interesting. I want to say thank you to Dance/USA, thank
you to Suzanne, thank you to Amy. It’s an honor to be on this panel especially
with my former professor, just giving my shoutout. I got to show her proof that I learned something
in class, right? I’m going to think, I know there’s some
slides going but I want to start by saying we’re all here because we know that art
and we know that dance has the ability to break down a lot of barriers and be a space
for a lot of people to communicate. But, you know, I want to say that you can’t
just enter a community and think that art is enough. Right? You can’t do that. Art is absolutely always pushing people and
policy forward but at the same time it’s not just on us to entertain, we have to educate. So this is something that Camille A. Brown
is committed to it’s in our mission and it’s not just about the performances that
we do which are great, if you haven’t seen the company yet you definitely should. A little plug you know. But at the same time we’re definitely about
providing a space and being a catalyst for dialogue. Especially for this challenging and tough
issues that Camille is facing and dealing with in her work. From identity, race, and culture in particular. So I’m gonna address some of the different
ways in which we connect with Camille so that you can see the various things in which we
do. And then just keep it going from there. So the first work that’s a part of a trilogy
that Camille created is called Mr. Tolerance and it’s dealing with stereotypes in African
American humor and the fact that we all wear a mask. Whether we want to admit it or not, we turn
it on we turn it off, we do what we need to do to get through. One of the things that Camille wanted to deal
with because we were talking about (?), we were talking about issues where there were
people who were saying you know at the time, Obama was president, and we’re looking at
post-racial society. There were all of these things that were being
said and she was like “no”. There’s still some things that we need to
talk about. So it wasn’t just about creating this evening
length work and having people applaud and lead this phase, we wanted to make sure that
we left room to really talk about this and talk about what people saw and talk about
what people felt. And in order to that what we did is we created
a part of the show that’s called “The Dialogue” and for us it’s literally a
part of the performance, it’s built in it’s not a post-show Q&A. Yes you can leave if you want right after
the performance but it’s really recommended that you stay and really have this full experience
and if you don’t say anything or ask a question sometimes it’s about what’s shared in
that space, especially after witnessing their performance that allows people to really engage
in a different way even with their own community that they’re a part of. Because again we’re touring, right? So it’s not even our community base in terms
of home for New York City for us, but it looks different, it sounds different. And so really creating that space was important
for us. And so again that’s a part of the piece
itself and it’s something that we’ve been able to transfer over into the addition works
that we do and that Camille is creating. As part of round three, we received funding
for Black Girls Spectrum. Now Black Girls Spectrum is a community engagement
initiative specifically for young black girls and black women to empower them to work as
creative citizens. And this particular engagement activity and
program was created alongside Camille’s work Black Girl: Linguistic Play which was
part two of the trilogy. And that’s dealing with the complexities
of being a black woman and kind of looking at the evolution of that. To childhood games, you know, to competition
with one another to mother daughter relationships as well. And so when looking at that work in particular,
Camille said “okay well I want to actually have something that lives on its own that’s
still connected to the community whether the work continues or not”. She wanted to make sure that there was something
else within the community that could stay there. So we developed this initiative and project
which it actually lives separately from the work. Which is a great experience, so we’ve been
able to that both in New York city and as the company tours. So what we do in these different workshops
is writing sessions, actual movement obviously, we use social dance as a vehicle and entry
point especially for young people to really begin to embrace their bodies and being empowered
in that way because that’s movement that at the time is coming natural to them and
they feel most comfortable in that space. So we’ve been able to create these different
workshop opportunities and experiences for them that go over time. But what I will say is that even when creating
that and doing that we didn;t make assumptions. And I think that is something you have to
recognize when doing community engagement and when you are going into a community especially
if it is not your own and by your own that can be where your base, that could be for
us black folk as Marjani said. You know it could be a variety of things but
i think it’s important to not make assumptions of what people need, you know, or what people
want because that may not really be what’s happening. So you need to have those kind of preliminary
conversations and for us as much as we have an idea of all of the various things you can
do with Black Girls spectrum, we always have a conversation with that group which we’re
working with. So what are you missing? What’s needed right now? How can we enhance that experience? Yes we have all the tools that we want to
do, it’s not just about us. It’s not about what we want to do, it’s
also why we’re really talking about making a change and impacting then we are going to
have to make sure that we are actually addressing also the need that’s there. Also, a part of Black Girl: Linguistic Play,
there’s actually, now I’m not sure, and there it is, right on time, go Indira! *laughs*
So there’s actually, for those of you who have seen Black Girl: Linguistic Play, and
for those of you who have not, there is actually a mural that the company does every night
with chalk and they draw images of their reflections of their childhood, things that remind them
of what it was like to be a young black girl and you know becoming a black woman. And what we have done after performances is
we have smaller versions of this chalkboard that we allow people to write on to draw on,
essentially doing a smaller mural. And it’s always interesting to see what’s
written or what’s drawn on these because in the beginning, especially for student shows,
in the beginning of a show Camille would say “when you hear the phrase black girl, what
comes to mind?”. Anybody can throw something out. Hair. Strong. Magical. I love that y’all are so positive and I
really appreciate it. Reality. Reality, thank you! Keep it real. Attitude. Loud. Butt. Okay so to be honest, in the development of
the work and even when Camille has done this for young people in particular it is more
negative stereotypes than it is more positive affirmations of young black girls and black
women. So her asking that question in the beginning
she can take all that and she asks them to sit with that. They perform the work, we go into the dialogue
where we are able to have this communication with them and we talk about it and it’s
interesting now that they’ve been on this journey they have different feelings about
what it is and how they would respond to that question and that is actually reflected when
they draw on the chalkboard which is nice to see and it’s a great momento for the
company to see what kind of impact they are having in community and sharing. So, I know I have been given the cue but yes,
slow down. Back to you Suzanne. *applause* Thank you, thank you. And if you have not seen the work of these
artists, run right out. Oh and keep seeing it, I mean a few things
I’ve heard and then I’ve known from experience, seeing the work live over the years that these
engagement strategies as Donna might call them or programs come directly out of the
work itself. There is nothing that is off the shelf for
these particular artists. And I think that it goes to some of the things
that you all shared today that you said. Indira said “Don’t make assumptions, ask
what is needed”. Donna talked about the intent versus the infrastructure
as did Marjani. With that, I think we can start with questions. No wrong questions so whatever you have to
ask. Thank you all for being here so much. I think I’m really interested in this notion
of process and I wanted to know, anyone on the panel, what you characterize as preemptive
actions before you even get to the space or the community. Actions you take before you get to the space,
Donna? For me it’s always research. I’m a lawyer by training so I can’t do
anything without understanding what I have and what does it look like and what are the
challenges? So for me going into Newark, I live in Brooklyn,
my whole career has been in Harlem. So I didn’t know anyone in Newark, I didn’t
know what dance looked like in Newark, but I knew I had to do dance in Newark, so how
do you do that? So I started by doing research, I started
asking various organizations and created, as I mentioned, the advisory council to figure
out what are the resources, what are the understanding exactly as it said. What do the people really want? It’s not about imposing what you think it
should be. You have to really ask people, so what’s
organic? So that’s a process and dance needs time
to process that. So if you’ve got a performance date in June
that means this begins in the fall. You know you’ve got to have time to really
educate yourself so you can really properly have a dialogue that present or represent
the needs and interests and then based on this kind of collaboration, you’ve developed
a plan as to how you’re going to roll this and build a sustainable model. I don’t do anything that’s not long term. We just don’t have the time. Indira or Marjani, anything to add about this
idea of how you get started and how far in advance? I think one of the things I’ve realized
and in our conversations too Suzanne it’s one thing to speak through the lens of a thirty
year old organization, it’s another thing, like I see a lot of my colleagues and sisters
in here, to speak through the lens of an individual artist asking these questions. And I think I’ll say to that question about
process for my work, like in this work over three years, looking at the starting off,
looking at the intersecting narratives of mental illness, substance abuse, and systemic
oppression. I think even getting to that was a long process
and then eventually left that sort of thesis. But I think one of the ways that helped me
have conversations with audiences was identifying what were my questions in the work. And I realized as I’m going into a new work,
one of the presenters I’m working with asked me, “so what do you want to do with our
audiences, what are some engagement actions?”. And I said I don’t know yet, I’m still
building the work, I have to find out what the questions are that are surfacing in the
work. And I feel that is a way for us, for me, to
really have a cycle like conversation with both my audiences and my communities that
may go beyond that audience, wherever it is that I’m going. And I’ll say also adding to that, that the
questions are very important. For Camille, I will say that our process and
her process is very long when she’s creating work. Camille is very heady, she will watch this
and then say why am I saying all of this? Camille is very heady, she is very intellectual,
she likes to be in the book, she’s going to get every piece of research that she can
as she’s developing a work. And that also goes for the company members,
so sometimes of you come to a rehearsal, you know, people are excited to see movement and
they maybe sitting in a circle for fortyfive minutes talking. That is process. It’s not different that, yeah okay they’re
dancing for an hour, I think there’s value in that I think there’s substance in that
and that’s what makes it translate on stage. When you’re able to have that kind of pure
intention and coming from that place and I think because that’s how she does her work
and development of her work, that’s the same thing, that’s how we translate what
we do into community and I will also shout out Ebony Noelle Golden who is our principal
engagement strategist and who we work with. It’s that same kind of talking, the same
conversation, that investigating that really figuring out what the needs are, what we do
as well. Great, we have another question here. So it’s a long term process, research takes
a lot of forms it sounds like. So as an individual artist, talking to organizations
that are more established and have longer term. Is there a way that being imbedded in the
community as an individual artist who grew up there or lives there currently, can we
start forming partnerships so that research that you’re talking about turning over,
because I understand that Camille or Urban Bush Women have their own repertory but also
turning it over to the individual artist who maybe more embedded and their work directly
relates to the smaller community. So again, because our organizations don’t
even have a budget of seventy thousand dollars. I’m just doing to drop this right in, this
whole thing doesn’t even exist without collaboration and partnerships. So like that’s like literally the rule. So the short answer is yes to you but I mean
everything we do i feel like a lot of people in this room can attest that if it had not
been for a partner, that it had not been for a collaborator, someone even just willing
to have a conversation with you about how in which you can develop and grow and all
of these other things, it don’t move. I would say lead the way. You have a jewel, use it. I think one of things artists suffer from
is apologizing that we’re artists. Let’s start acting like we’re kings and
queens. You have this royal connection to the community
that the organization actual leads. Because most marketing departments won’t
have the time to build those kind of relationships, they’re running from show to show. You can lead the way, be the thread and you
say that I’m the one that connects you, and put a little dollar sign on that too. *laughs* I want to go to your comment about who’s
in the audience because I went to a show recently where it was another African AMerican choreographer,
and there were none of us in the audience, you know what I mean? So what is it about getting our community
in the audience? You saying that it’s not, might not always
be the artist, but then what do we have to say? Ticket prices, where we’re performing, if
it’s not in the community they’re not going to go enjoy it. Where is the disconnect to get them in the
seat? We’re telling their story, hopefully we
can get the prices down, we look like you, we sound like you, we get you, where is the
disconnect? I am rocking because I about to say something. Right so, if my classes come back to my mind,
but have they even been invited? It might also be this assumption that okay
I’m black, i’ve been doing this black work so now all the black people are going
to come out. No, no. I mean we’re being candid I think this is
family, I think this is faith and we can be transparent about this. That’s not how it works, so at the same
time I may know that you’re doing work i may have seen it on a flyer or on an email
or email but I haven’t really felt that I’ve been invited and you actually want me there. Because, we are so accustomed to not being
invited, so why is this any different. So if you want us to come, ask us. That means, build relationships. The success that I’ve had is because of
the relationships, not because of me. Not necessarily even the dance, it’s because
I was connecting to the heart of the community and bringing those two together. So I work with my female organizations, my
fraternities, my sororities, my churches. This is what they want, this has been a relationship,
we’ve sat down, we’ve talked, we had lunch, talked about the kids, I know about the husband,
the cat, the dog. All of that equals the result. So that’s where the patience comes in, the
tenacity to not give up, to be nimble. So that we can go whichever way we need to
go to make this happen, but having the vision and you know you really have the kind of conviction
that no matter what you got to make this work. Can I add a little something to this about
capacity? Okay. Because i am an individual artist with a sixteen
month old son and a huge rent and you know a lot going on. So after i leave rehearsal and after I write
a couple of emails it’s probably time to start the bedtime routine for the baby. You know what I mean? Like the day is short and so I feel like it’s
also important to talk a little bit about capacity and this is why I said process and
time. Because for example, Urban Bush Women has
a huge network, right? So if people know that Urban Bush Women is
coming now at this point they’re calling the office. “Yo I saw that you were coming to Chicago,
can you guys come to the dadada…”Right? And I was like, bet, we’ll be there. You know, Marjani Forte-Saunders is coming
to Bentonville, Arkansas. You know what I mean? Then I thought I got like five collaborators
I’m working with, they might know some people. Then I got a company manager I’m working
with now so that helps a little bit, so I’m like, can we reach out? But it, I know the first time I get there
I won’t have an audience like this. But maybe the second or the third if I keep
building those relationships, I will start to build an audience. So one of the theme of today, one of them,
is this intent versus infrastructure. Donna, anything to add on this point? I’m assuming a lot of the dance makers in
the room are relatively small budget maybe? Well I think we’re talking about measurements
of success. And I think that we have to project modestly. You know so, thinking about a sold out house
is success. You said you went to a performance that was
predominantly white or no African Americans. Would three be a success, would five be a
success? So who’s in the room to begin with? Who’s in the city? When I toured with Bringing the Noise and
ETH and all those shows, we would go to Seattle and there’s three percent African Americans. I met all of them. When we had that three percent in the audience,
that’s all there was, there was no more. So we have to look at, what’s the reality? What should we expect? And at the same time, welcome the white folks
that came. We are thrilled that they came because they
are helping us to celebrate dance. Other questions? One more question? Hi y’all, thank you so much. So I don’t mean to make this sound like
a final grant report question. What has the process been of sustaining this
work after the funding is gone because the work is amazing and what’s the longevity
of that? *silence* That’s the dearest answer. I know right. This is still a process. I mean, you know, finding the other resources
to support it. And I think the other think, at least for
us, because particular with Black Girl Spectrum we’re doing that here but we’re also doing
it when the company is on tour and working with community organizations wherever the
company is touring. And so I think what I’m interested in and
what I’m looking forward to is maintaining those relationships that we have on tour and
figuring out the ways in which there’s going to be ways of collaborate even to get increased
funding, to continue it. Because we are also looking at two different
things that you know have the name. One being in New York and what that looks
like what the partners we work with here versus when the company is actually touring. So for me, it’s about figuring out the two
strategies that will work best both for what’s happening here and the what happens when the
company is touring which is totally different. Not really sure if that answers it but it’s
in the making it’s in the process. Pray on it with me. Donna, do you think this notion of a partnership
forming is what takes work from being one time to sustained? Oh absolutely, you know, in Jay pack, my first
year, we started working with Jack and Jill which an African American charitable organization
who like to have events for children who are rooted in the culture. And we had lunch and dinner, we started talking. Year two they brought a group to see Ailey,
year three hey brought a group to see (?) and black violins. This past year we programed their Black History
Month with an African Dance Ensemble and the whole Black History Month. They also purchased two hundred tickets to
see ailey in May. So it took four years to get to that point. So it really is having this timing, so again
it goes back to success and measurements of success and giving yourself time to figure
it out, but also for the audience to decide this is what I want. So they were figuring us out as well. So I’m afraid we are out of town, out of
time. We’re not out of town, well I am but you’re
not. Anyways, Dance/NYC likes to end with an action
step. So we have a question for you. We’ve started with this notion of community. We’ve been delving into it, audiences and
community. Can we go back to our popcorn share. Any new notions of community or community
building or how the thought shared with you today might influence the way you think about
audience. Anybody can yell out anything. Do your research. Slow and steady. It’s a process. Be sure you invite them in. Partnerships. Intent versus infrastructure. Dance Walks. I also heard be bold because Donna is going
to be watching. Thank you very much for being here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *