Don’t let this foundation’s name fool you. New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) actively and generously gives to choreographers, dance companies, and presenting organizations throughout the United States and beyond.
As for how this foundation got its geographic-specific name: It was established in 1976 as one of six regional arts organizations receiving initial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in order to strengthen and cultivate arts on a regional level. Today, NEFA still does operate regional grants and programs (check out its Expeditions Touring Grants, Expeditions Tour Planning Grants, New England States Touring Grants, and New England Presenter Travel Funds if you're a New England-located presenting group).
But NEFA's big dance grants support dance companies, choreographers, and presenting organizations that are creating, developing, and showcasing their projects anywhere in the country—and internationally as well.
Let's start with NEFA’s coveted National Dance Project Production Grant. Approximately 20 choreographers/dance companies receive this grant each year, with amounts typically in the $25,000 - $40,000 range. This money pays for the creation and development process of a dance piece that will then tour nationally. A portion of this grant is also earmarked for the artists to allocate funds to presenting organizations, who use those funds to pay the artists their appearance fees—so it goes right back into the creators’ pockets while relieving presenting organizations of some of their expenses. (This is formally called the NEFA’s National Dance Project Presentation Grant.)
Because of this unique set-up, NEFA requires that the choreographer/dance company already have at least one presenting partnership in process with a well-articulated collaborative game plan, and the foundation is even more impressed if you have even more presenting partnerships already in place. This award is primarily reserved for U.S.-based choreographers and dance companies, but they can reside anywhere in the country.
In terms of the artistry itself, NEFA looks for new dance works of “genuine imagination” created by artists with a very proven track record—measured by previous professional productions, a touring history, and “recognized skill and accomplishment.” Social relevance and audience engagement are also important; NEFA is looking for “originality and/or timeliness” including the project’s “use of live and virtual strategies to connect artists and the public.”
NEFA’s 2015 recipients of its National Dance Production Grant include choreographers Beth Gill (Ridgewood, NJ), Trajhall Harrell (New York, NY), Amy O’Neal (Seattle, WA) and Karen Sherman (Minneapolis, MN) among others.
Dance companies receiving a 2015 National Dance Production Grant include a canary torsi I yanira castro (Brooklyn, NY), Contra-Tiempo (Culver City, CA), The Seldoms (North Riverside, IL) and Twyla Tharp Dance (New York, NY) among others.
The foundation also maintains an extensive and detailed search engine where you can also view years’ worth of grant recipients, with descriptions of each of those projects as well.
Another key grant opportunity for choreographers and dance companies as they develop their new work are NEFA’s National Dance Project Production Residencies for Dance Grants. These grants support end-stage of development where dancers, “in collaboration with residency partners, can access technical facilities and staff and gain significant artistic, directorial, and/or dramaturgical input to produce works that are more fully realized and ready to tour.” These grants are meant to be implemented either just before or just after a dance piece’s premiere (but prior to the work’s tour). These grants are only open to choreographers and companies who have previously received a National Dance Production Grant; it’s seen as the next phase of the work’s development. NEFA gave out nine of these grants in 2014, with all but one receiving $22,000 in this additional development support.
Whether or not a choreographer or dance company has received a development grant from NEFA, once a new dance piece is ready to tour it is eligible for NEFA’s National Dance Project Touring Award. This grant goes to the choreographer or dance company, but it is directly linked to the National Dance Project Presentation Grants that go to exhibiting venues (see above). The foundation gives out up to 10 of these Touring Awards annually, with a standard amount of $35,000. The dance companies use them to distribute cash to potential presenting organizations; the organizations then give the cash back to the dancers/choreographer/company as their artist fees.
NEFA will give out this award to choreographers/dance companies anywhere in the U.S.; they also encourage international applicants for this grant. The 2014 recipients of the National Dance Project Touring Award spanned Portland, OR to New York, NY to Brussels, Belgium to Maputo, Mozambique.
NEFA also goes international with a specifically French partnership. The mission of the National Dance Project French-U.S. Exchange in Dance is for U.S. and French dancers whose work have not (or rarely) been seen in the other country to have an opportunity to be showcased there. NEFA oversees the French dancers to U.S. presenting organizations part of this exchange. This grant functions similarly to the National Dance Project Presentation Grant in that it is applied for and given to presenting organizations, and the grant awards are used to pay for artists’ appearance fees and travel costs. As it is for all of NEFA grants to presenting groups, these must have 501(c)(3) status, or be a school or government entity, but need not “formally” be a dance or arts organization. Seven of these grants were given to U.S. presenting organizations in 2014, to venues in Durham, NC; Houston, TX; La Jolla, CA; Miami, FL and New York, NY.
All said and done, in 2014 NEFA provided more than $3.4 million in grants to artists and presenting organizations in New England, throughout the U.S., and internationally. NEFA not only supplies a very detailed search engine sharing all of its previous grantees in all sectors; it also provides very detailed eligibility and deadline information for each grant opportunity. In the world of theater granting, NEFA is as thorough and transparent as they come.