Twin Cities Dancers Score Doris Duke Grants — What Can Other Communities Learn from Them?

The Doris Duke Foundation announced its recent round of Performing Artist and Impact Award recipients and the Twin Cities emerged as big winners, continuing an impressive streak that began with a recent $8 million gift from the Knight Foundation. 

The area is something of a hotbed for creativity as of late, and its stature seems to be growing by the week. For example, in our recent look at the Knight Foundation award, the foundation's president of the arts, Dennis Scholl, raised a few eyebrows by claiming, "The thing I see in St. Paul that I don't see as much in other communities is a real sense of collaboration." 

Naturally, artists in other cities would happily disagree with Scholl's assessment, but his underlying principle holds true. Twin Cities arts organizations and artists are doing very well for themselves and are giving their counterparts Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago a run for their money. Amd that's where the Doris Duke Impact Awards come in.

The foundation allocated 39 Performing Artist Awards, of which three winners hailed from the Twin Cities: Ragamala Dance founder Ranee Ramaswamy, choreographer and Catalyst Dance founder Emily Johnson, and puppet maker and theater artist Michael Sommers. Each won $275,000. Composer and pianist Craig Taborn, meanwhile, was raised in the area, though he now lives in New York and won a $80,000 Doris Duke Impact Award.

All of this brings us back to the Twin Cities' recent hot streak. Clearly, there are other vibrant art communities out there, but is there anything in particular we can glean from what's happening in Minneapolis? We think there is, and the answer comes when these awards are put in a greater context. For example, take the Knight Foundation award. Readers will note that almost half of the total $8 million allocated, $3.5 million, will be distributed over five years to five "anchor arts institutions."

Now take a look at the Doris Duke Foundation award winners. They're all individual artists, and two of them founded their own dance studios. That said, one can convincingly argue that their success was at least partially made possible by the larger, "collaborative" (to quote Scholl) environment across the Twin Cities, cultivated by groups like the anchor arts institutions funded by Knight. In other words, no artist award exists in a vacuum. It takes anchor institutions to drive awareness and collaboration, and it takes artists, dancers, and choreographers like Ramaswamy, Johnson, and Sommers to create engaging programming.