Why Did Mellon Shell out $750,000 for Gibney Dance's Residency Program?

New York City's Gibney Dance is on a roll. In 2011, it expanded its footprint with additional studios in a 36,000 square-foot space next to City Hall that was owned by Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) at the time. Then, in January of 2014, the Anges Varis Trust gave the company $3 million to take over and renovate that exact building after DNA went bankrupt. And now comes word that it received $750,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund its Dance in Process Residency program.

The scope of the grant is impressive. Over three years, the gift will provide 30 artists — that's $25,000 a pop for those keeping track at home — with a three-week residency at Gibney’s other Manhattan space, 890 Broadway in the Flatiron district, where the company has been based since its inception 23 years ago.

Many dance organizations run their own residency programs, but very few net such large grants from a foundation like Mellon. What's so special about Dance in Process? Here are just a few theories:

Gibney Dance didn't wait around for funding. Many organizations understandably tell foundations, "We'll do this, this, and this if we're so fortunate to receive funding." Gibney seemed to operate as if funding would be almost an afterthought. The Dance in Process program has been in pilot mode for the past two years with virtually no financial backing. The Mellon grant will provide foundational seed money to give everyone involved with much-appreciated fiscal piece of mind.

Of course, "don't wait around for funding" isn't always the best piece of advice one could give organizations. Dance organizations certainly aren't immune from the perils of bankruptcy. That said, we imagine Mellon was impressed with how Gibney built out the program on a shoestring budget.

It targets a demographic that other dance organizations ignore. The residency will focus specifically on mid-career artists, a demographic often left out of major funding support in favor of so-called established or emerging artists.

It focuses on in-progress works. Organizations that commission new works run the risk of funding artists who, for whatever reason, fail to live up to their proverbial end of the bargain. In-progress works, on the other hand, generally involve less risk because the work has evolved past the initial planning stages. And so Dance in Process will focus on work that has "progressed beyond initial research, developing work that requires technical support in a theater or production laboratory setting, and work that requires uninterrupted space and support in which to test new ideas and directions."

It's also worth noting that Dance in Process is a component of Gibney Dance’s $10 million "Campaign for 280 Broadway: Making Space for Culture," which will fund renovations within 280 Broadway as well as new and expanded artistic and community programs.

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