When Honoring a Legacy Turns Into an Endowment Gift

It's always nice when a nonprofit dance organization nets a grant to create an endowment and name a studio for perpetuity. But it's doubly nice when the gift unites two of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. In this case, that would be Mikhail Baryshnikov, artistic director of New York City's Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC)—which provides studios, performance space and residency programs to artists across disciplines—and the Chicago-based Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation, which just cut the BAC a $3 million check

The money creates, at long last, the Rudolf Nureyev Endowment—the BAC's first endowment-specific donation in its 10 year history—and names the Rudolf Nureyev Studio for perpetuity. The practical implications of this gift shouldn't be underestimated. Baryshnikov summed it up best, noting, "With this new gift, we will be able to establish the first endowed fund at BAC—an incredible milestone for our organization. BAC's mission is to provide a space and home for artists and dancers to continue to grow and develop their art, with absolute freedom."

The $3 million is the largest donation awarded by the foundation, which has given out more than $12 million to support dance since about 1995. Previous gifts include:

  • The Rudolf Nureyev Scholarship, given to promising young male dancers pursuing advanced training at the School of American Ballet.
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago to assist in its 40th Gala season production of Aida
  • Paul Taylor Dance company to re-stage Book of Beasts. 
  • American Friends of the Paris Opera Ballet to underwrite the souvenir book printed for the PIB's engagement with the MET. 
  • San Francisco Ballet in support of its the restaging of Rudolf Nureyev's Raymonda, Act III in 2000.
  • José Limón Dance Company to support its 50th anniversary season.

Ultimately, the gift serves two purposes. First, of course, to provide dancers with a space to work, develop, and experiment. But secondly, the grant aims to extend the legacy of Siberia-born Nureyev (1938-1993). It's a challenge that seems particularly attuned to the world of dance. Barry Weinstein, the foundation's board chair, sums it up best, noting, "Rudolf died in 1993, and it becomes harder and harder to keep a dancer's name alive as the years pass. It’s not like a singer, where you hear their voice. The memory of a dancer fades."

It's something other arts organizations should keep in mind, as there's no shortage of grantmakers keen on promoting their namesakes.