|Was your concept of supporting dance – that presenters should be involved in not only presenting but also in the art-making process – a product of your own job experiences in Pilobolus, which is a dance company; and Jacob’s Pillow, which is dance presenter?
From the beginning I was interested in how to support artists, helping them to make their work. Many of the artists I was interested in could not afford a full-time manager. The great thing when I shifted to Jacobs Pillow was that the new job enabled me to work with 30 artists a year in some fashion – sometimes pretty deeply such as with Ralph Lemon, and Judith Jamison before she took over Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It was great that I could work with artists over time without having be to a manager for each of them, which would not have been practical. And, it was dance. (laugh) Then, the NEFA thing came and I thought, “How can I keep doing this?” The National Dance Project is primarily the result of that. It also addressed further issues such as what choreographers need to make really a good work and connect to audience around the country?
Your career transition from NEFA to LINC (Leveraging Investments in Creativity) seems to be the transition from “providing support for artists’ art making” to “preparing fundamentals for artists.” Has your interest shifted to addressing more bottom-line issues for artists’ survival in the society, to enable them to be creative?
When you start out your career, you are, or should be, interested in specific artists, saying, “I really like your work and I would like to support you.” So you will work for them as a manager – that’s how it was for me at the Pilobolus. But when I shifted to Jacob’s Pillow, I was in a position where you can’t just build a season based on those artists you loved. You have to work with more artists. That is, you have to build a bigger system in order to support the artists you loved and all artists that need to be supported and need to connect audience. The artists you care about would benefit from that.
With NEFA the same thing is true. You don’t build the National Dance Project or other regional programs to exclusively serve the artists you love. You build them to serve the passions, needs and aspirations of a lot of other people, including the artists you love. So you are doing more in order to do the thing you care about most. Then, you say, “OK, who needs to do what?” Not everybody who cares about dance needs to go to NEFA and do the National Dance Project; some people should be managers and presenters. So different roles need to be played.
When you look at the artists that you care about, you realize that some of the challenges that they face are not specific to their discipline or their industry. They are things that have to do with the conditions that exist in the society – such as lack of affordable health care, lack of affordable space, lack of professional development opportunities, lack of individual support or markets. Since those challenges are not exclusive to dance, the solution is not simply, “I’m going out to find health care for the choreographer I love.” The solution has to be, “How can I develop the strategies that make health care more affordable to ALL artists, including the artists I love.”
That is what the LINC is about. LINC was my last version of this – stepping back and saying, “Look, given what artists need, and my particular talent, which is about building partnerships and attracting resources, what do I need to spend my time for in order to affect change and improvement in the conditions faced by artists, including those I care about.” NEFA, through National Dance Project and other programs, is operating nationally or even internationally in some cases, but primarily serving performing artists and presenters; whereas LINC is dealing with issues that involve two million artists living in the U.S. – a much larger population.
Who established LINC?
Holly Sidford set up LINC, and I am one of the authors. It’s a little complicated. In 2003, the Ford Foundation made a grant to NEFA when I was there to help Holly design LINC and to intervene as necessary. But for personal reasons, she chose to step away. Since I had contributed to its design and implementation, it made sense that I would be the one to replace her as LINC’s President.
It seems that your achievements and influence at NEFA were more visible than those at LINC.
NEFA is probably close to 40 years old by now. They have been doing great work before me and after me. I didn’t found it just like I didn’t found Jacob’s Pillow or Pilobolus. You come in to those organizations; and you build on what was there and take it into the next level – which is fun to do. On the other hand, LINC is only 5 years old – it’s a different thing.
LINC was designed to function for a 10-year period. LINC’s job, which is to improve conditions for individual artists in the U.S. through partnerships at the local, regional and national levels, in a way that could be sustained after LINC’s investment. So it was built as a kind of institution that was rather to be seen as separate from the success of our partners, which would have the success. The scenario of LINC was that all its functions would be distributed and taken over by all partner organizations after 10 years.
We wanted to improve the perception of individual artists; we wanted to make them visible and valued, and we wanted to improve the conditions under which they worked. Most of the infrastructure of this country prior to LINC was built to support arts organizations, such as service organizations and funding programs – all are geared toward arts “institutions.” And the role of and contributions made by individual artists were not really understood. So, the idea of “support” was that, “If you support arts institutions, they will support the individual artists.”
Especially after NEA cut the individual funding.
Yes. So we built a set of programs based on the issue of how your programs can be more supportive to and inclusive of individual artists if you are a local arts council or state arts agency or community foundation serving the arts in your community. We are just finishing the first five years of the program. During those years, we have worked in 15 communities around the country – regions, states, cities –and they really changed the way that artists are seen, valued and supported in each of those communities. We changed the way that information on health care is organized and offered to individual artists. We changed the way that people looked at community development, such as low-income housing, with understanding of the needs of artists. Then, all those things could be replicated by other communities.