Luna Negra Dance Theater Shuts Its Doors Despite Joyce Foundation Donation

Chicago contemporary dance company Luna Negra Dance Theater is closing its doors due to persistent financial woes, despite a recent gift of $100,000 from the Joyce Foundation. (See Joyce Foundation: Chicago Grants.) The dance troupe, which is the only contemporary dance company solely devoted to the works of Latino choreographers in the country, has always relied on charitable gifts and corporate support to supplement ticket sales and has finally decided to call it quits after 14 years.

The closing of Luna Negra Dance Theater is a huge loss for the Latino dance community, particularly in Chicago. But with ticket sales comprising only around 30% of operating costs, the financial model has proven an unsustainable one.

Board President Jorge Solis said of the announcement:

Luna Negra is very proud of having provided a wonderful medium in which to celebrate and showcase Latino-inspired dance in the city of Chicago. Sharing the rich Latino culture has been a source of pride and inspiration to all those involved with the company over the past 14 years. It's been tremendously difficult to come to the conclusion to cease operations, but the financial reality could not be avoided.

This decision may beg the question of the feasibility of a performance company like Luna Negra relying so heavily on charitable contributions when ticket sales and audiences are so hard to come by. In many cases, however, this is exactly what philanthropic giving is meant to do.

One Chicago paper noted that it's increasingly difficult for small dance companies like Luna Negra to survive in Chicago, much less prosper and grow. The paper explains that "they typically have far fewer local performances a year than do most theater companies and larger music organizations. It becomes difficult for these dance company to develop and grow a loyal audience. Dance companies that do prosper in Chicago... are able to bring in significant additional funding through a robust touring schedule each season."

Given these barriers, charitable donations such as Joyce's (See IP's profile on Joyce Foundation Vice President of Programs Gretchen Crosby Sims) and corporate support seem a necessity for artistic organizations like Luna Negra. With an annual operating budget of around $1 million, the dance company found the financial burden too much to bear.