What's So Special About Recipients of Hewlett Foundation's Choreography Grants?

As we note in our Grant Finder guide, the Hewlett Foundation calls the proverbial shots in Bay Area dance funding. So when the Menlo Park, CA-based foundation announces grant winners, people in the industry pay attention, both locally and nationally. And the foundation's recent round of funding — $300,000 to support the creation and production of new dance and movement works by six California choreographers — does not disappoint.

We'd like to take a minute to take a closer look at the recipient organizations, their unique program offerings, and what it all means for Bay Area and national dance organizations seeking funding.

First off, loyal readers of this blog — and of IP's Dance funding Trends and Tips guide — understand that "dance funding" is a broad and fluid concept. Philanthropic organizations don't simply give money to a dance organization without some sort of underlying motive in mind. In other words, foundations generally allocate dance dollars for:

  • Choreographers
  • Dancers
  • Companies
  • Community revitalization
  • Youth development
  • Audience engagement

And a quick look at the Hewlett Foundation's recent awards indicate their funding is being exclusively devoted towards choreography. Of course, this isn't to say the foundation isn't concerned with those other artistic and business elements of dance. But the foundation realizes that original material is the engine that drives dance companies.

The foundation, with the help of an advisory panel comprised of nationally-respected dance experts, awarded six organizations with a $50,000 grant each. The grant is divided into two parts: $12,500 or more will be a commissioning fee to a California-based choreographer, with the remaining funds going to the presenting organization for production-related expenses. 

What about the programs themselves? What was it about the recipients' offerings that so beguiled the foundation and its advisory panel?  Glad you asked. Here are a few distinguishing characteristics gleaned from the list of winners:

  • Embrace differentiation and specialization. The Oakland-based AXIS Dance Company is a world-renowned pioneer in "physically-integrated contemporary dance," which incorporates dancers with physical disabilities. They'll be working with winning choreographer Victoria Marks around a work that embraces this unique form of contemporary dance.
  • Honor local trailblazers. Ed Mock is a late SF-based choreographer and teacher. Recipient choreographer Amara Tabor-Smith will create an homage to Mock that will include extensive interviews, archival research, and multiple performance sites.
  • Take the multi-discipline route. Winning choreographer Joe Kreiter will use video, oral history, site-specific dance, and original film as part of her work on the "human faces of the economic recession." 
  • Celebrate under-valued cultures. Patrick Mukuakane's hula dance piece, which will include chanting and storytelling, will embrace the "silent" and "unheard" perspectives of indigenous Hawaiians.

So there you have it. Four examples (out of six winning recipients) of choreographers creating bold programs that secured coveted funding from the Hewlett Foundation. Bay Area dance companies, we hope you're taking notes.