Realignment: A Quick Look at Data-Driven Grantmaking Changes to the National Dance Project

 Photo: Sergey Petrov/shutterstock

 Photo: Sergey Petrov/shutterstock

We hear quite a bit about "big data" in the world of arts philanthropy, but data without action is rather meaningless, isn't it?

For a striking example of how research, benchmarking and number-crunching can lead to changes in a grantmaker's funding priorities, we turn to news of significant changes afoot at the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA).

The foundation, as loyal IP readers know, is one of arts philanthropy's most generous and forward-looking dance funders. And like any fiscally responsible funder, the NEFA wanted to make sure they were getting the most bang for their buck. 

The foundation partnered with Metris Arts Consulting to assess the effectiveness of the NEFA's National Dance Project. This evaluation included new research about current needs of the dance field gathered through multiple surveys, interviews, focus groups, a literature review, and an analysis of secondary data sources.

In November, the foundation released its findings, "Moving Dance Forward: NEFA’s National Dance Project at 20 & Critical Field Trends." The report acts as a strategic and funding roadmap for the NDP moving forward and provides a sector-wide overview of key trends in the dance field. It's safe to say that trends affecting the NDP will likely resonate with dance organizations elsewhere.

NEFA's design changes are supported in part by a two-year renewed grant of $3,629,400 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. For the sake of brevity, the four main trends and corresponding funding changes can be summarized accordingly.

First, dance organization need more support on the supply side. As a result, the NEFA will increase the number of production grants to choreographers and dance companies. (Contrast this with Doris Duke's extensive demand-side grantmaking.)

Second, professional support remains top-of-mind. The foundation will convene first-time NDP Production grantees with NEFA staff, NDP Advisors, and other colleagues to exchange knowledge, skills, and resources related to touring their work.

Third? Engagement, engagement, engagement. Much like the League of Orchestra's work in the classical space, the NEFA aims to strengthen dance organizations' engagement with the community. To that end it is piloting a Community Engagement Fund to provide supplementary grants to selected artists who receive NDP funding and who have a "strong community engagement practice or who demonstrate a commitment to developing a community engagement practice while on tour."

Lastly, many communities across the U.S. remain woefully underserved when it comes to access to dance. The NDP will create incentives and initiatives to bolster dance presenters and artists in parts of the country with less access to dance and resources.

"In addition to these specific program changes, we will continue to implement equitable and inclusive grantmaking practices and explore NDP’s support for international exchange" said program director Sara Nash. "We are excited to transform the Moving Dance Forward findings into programs that will build on NDP’s 20 years of support for dance creation and touring."

Again, this is just a summary of changes in store. I encourage you to check out the full press release