The Mellon Foundation Re-Ups With The National Dance Project. What's it Mean?

In the murky world of finance, if a mega-bank is "too big too fail," policymakers and good ol' taxpayers step in to prop up the bank in question lest its failure trigger a national calamity. In a way, these banks remind me of certain arts organizations, like, say, the New England Foundation for the Arts' National Dance Project.

You read that correctly.

Let's start with the major similarity. If an organization like the National Dance Project (NDP) folded, I admit, the stock market wouldn't tumble, nor would President Obama give an emergency briefing from the West Wing. Yet it would provide a devastating blow to the country's dance infrastructure. The NDP is that important.

And then there's the great big difference between, say, Goldman Sachs and the NDP. The latter is a well-oiled machine, thanks in no small part to generous support from the funding equivalent of the U.S. taxpayer, foundations. Foundations like Doris Duke and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation understand that the NDP is actually "too awesome too fail." To date, the National Dance Project has engaged over 3.6 million audience members and supports touring companies that travel to around 37 states each year. (Take that, Citigroup!)

All of this, of course, is great news for nonprofit dance organizations across the country. But before we get into the reasons why program directors at such organizations should be doing the foxtrot in their office kitchens, let's first look at the NDP's ever-growing base of financial support.

As we recently noted, the Doris Duke Foundation is a committed supporter of the project, recently handing out $5.2 million to encourage the creation and touring of new dance work and choreography to share with audiences and expand engagement in communities throughout the U.S.

And now comes news that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is also doubling down on its support for the project, having just awarded a three-year, $3.3 million grant to the NDP. As I noted in a previous piece, the foundation's ongoing commitment to the NDP comes at a time when, according to IP analysis, only seven of the top 50 foundations awarding grants for arts and culture have programs in national grantmaking that include dance organizations.

Does this funding suggest the NDP is too reliant on a handful of donors? Not necessarily. The project receives additional support from the MetLife Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and funding for special initiatives from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the French American Cultural Exchange.

What it does mean is that the time is ripe for dance nonprofits to get in on the action.

For artists, the project offers production grants, production residency grants, and a $35,000 touring award. Their offerings for presenters are even more robust. And don't get us started on their ongoing projects like the National Dance Project Regional Dance Development Initiative.

So why not head on over to our Grant Finder profile on the NDP? Strike while the iron is hot!