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Atlanta: A Growing Dance City…but How to Sustain?

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Dance Canvas, Center of Hope, Outreach Class, Master Class with Gelan Lambert of the Fela Nat’l Tour

By Angela Harris, Executive Artistic Director, Dance Canvas, Inc.
This is an exciting time for dance in metro Atlanta! 2017 allowed Atlanta to witness new dance companies kicking off inaugural seasons, major dance organizations making leadership and location changes, long-standing dance companies celebrating milestone anniversaries, colleges creating new dance departments and growing new dance partnerships, and dance public school programs being acknowledged as top schools in Georgia. As the Executive Director of Dance Canvas, a dance organization at work in ATL, I am proud of all of these accomplishments in our artistic community. It makes me optimistic that Atlanta will continue to grow as a national dance destination, and continue to drive artistic talent to our city.
Atlanta boasts a plethora of professional concert dance companies of various sizes, missions, genres, and visibility (in addition to many hip hop and commercial dance organizations). For 20+ years, Atlanta Ballet, Core, Ballethnic, Full Radius, The Georgia Ballet, Room to Move Dance and Giwayen Mata have all been part of the fabric of Atlanta’s dance community. As my organization, Dance Canvas celebrates our 10th Anniversary season, I’m proud to have been part of a resurgence of dance in the Atlanta metro area, along with other organizations like Staibdance, Glo, Zoetic, T. Lang Dance, Refuge Dance, Lucky Penny and Emily Cargill & Dancers. Terminus, Fly on a Wall, City Gate Dance Theater, Kit Modus, Atlanta Dance Collective, Atlanta Dance Connection, Bluebird Uncaged and Gotta Dance Contemporary are all newer companies producing work which adds to the rich dance offerings of our city. As dance companies and choreographers continue to make Atlanta home, we do have a substantial challenge to address: the growth and sustainability of living wages for our professional dance artists.
Atlanta and its surrounding areas are primed to be able to sustain a large workforce of dance professionals with as many professional dance companies that are producing work, and with the addition of the independent choreographers who are creating projects throughout the city. However, funding and philanthropic support is always a challenge, especially for the small and midsized organizations, and artist wages suffer as a result. Atlanta continues to attract dancers who see our region as an alternative to other dance hubs with higher costs of living, (NYC or Los Angeles), however there are far too many that are leaving our city due to lack of jobs and paying opportunities.

Photo Credit Richard Calmes_Courtesy of Dance Canvas Inc_Choreography by City Gate Dance Theater

Our dance community is hard at work to continue to grow revenue and jobs. Nine of the non-profit dance organizations have been meeting regularly to discuss collaborative marketing ideas to cross-promote and grow dance audiences, thanks to the support of the new Audience Building Roundtable, an initiative of the Arthur M. Blank Foundation. Our meetings have produced ideas such as a city-wide marketing campaign to promote dance in our community and generate more interest and awareness of the artists at work in our region.
There is a need to invest in the creative workforce of our city. Many of the dance organizations are small businesses with small administrative staffs doing great things to expose and enrich our community on very limited budgets. For instance, in addition to our professional performances, Dance Canvas has had a partnership with the City of Atlanta’s Department of Recreation’s Centers of Hope program for six years. With an organizational budget of $140,000 and only one full-time and two part-time staff members, we have worked hands-on with over 1,000 students (ages 5 – 10 years) at 5 different centers throughout the city; exposing the students to the world of professional dance through after-school outreach classes, field trips, and workshops. Both Ballethnic and Glo have taken their programs to other areas of Georgia, outside of Atlanta, to expose thousands of our surrounding community members to artistic programs.
In 2018, as the dance community continues to grow, our job will be to continue to find ways to attract resources, funding, corporate support, and interest. It benefits the quality of life for Atlanta residents to have this option of 20+ professional dance companies to attend and support. I have made a resolution to support one organization per month, and I am excited to experience the beauty that our city’s dance artists provide. I’ll keep you updated on what I see, but I’d also like to invite you to join me! Just think of the artists you will support and how you will be helping the dance community grow and flourish!
(Photo Left: Credit Richard Calmes, Courtesy of Dance Canvas Inc, Choreography by Gierre Godley)
(Top photo: Credit Richard Calmes, Courtesy of Dance Canvas Inc, Choreography by City Gate Dance Theater)

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