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Vail Dance Festival ‘Artist Relief Fund’ raises more than $190K for artists

Vail Dance Festival. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Vail Dance Festival. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

With COVID-19 canceling live performances since March, and events cancelled for many months to come, dancers, musicians, choreographers and production professionals have suffered greatly. 

The Vail Dance Festival was one of many beloved live events to be impacted by the pandemic as it moved forward with an eight-night, eight-program Vail Dance Festival: The Digital Edition that included commissioned new works made for the virtual space and yielded more than 105,000 views over a 21-day span. While the Festival was able to share at no charge its unique programming with worldwide audiences in this new way, its extraordinary artists have continued to face dire financial hardship. 

Responding to this need, the non-profit Vail Valley Foundation, organizers of the Vail Dance Festival, launched the Artist Relief Fund. The Vail Dance Festival Committee provided initial funding, followed by additional contributions over the course of the Digital Festival and into the fall. Ten percent of all donations raised through the Digital Festival were directed to the Fund, resulting in an initial total of $70,222, which was to be distributed in the form of grants to 64 qualifying applicants – Vail Dance Festival dancers, musicians, production staff and interns. 

Each applicant was slated to receive an award of $1,000; however, at the 11th hour, a generous member of the Vail Dance Festival community offered a double matching donation to triple the awards. As a result, the total raised reached $192,000 and each of the 64 recipients has now received $3,000. 

“Along with countless others, we are heartbroken over the shuttering of performing arts opportunities around the world,” said Susan Campbell, Vail Dance Festival Committee Chair and Vail Valley Foundation Member of the Board of Directors. “We truly believe that dance is essential, and we are grateful for the Vail Dance Festival artists’ ongoing participation in this art form.”

“The human impact of COVID-19 has been simply devastating,” said Vail Dance Festival Artistic Director Damian Woetzel. “It is so important to us to be able to support our Festival artists and production team as we continue to battle this crisis, and this Artist Relief Fund embodies the spirit of the Vail community that is at the heart of what we are as a Festival.” 

Upon notification of their awards, many dancers responded with thank you notes expressing their gratitude. 

“We don’t know when we will be able to take a ‘stage’ again, and so not only are the funds so crucial but the hope that comes with it,” wrote modern dancer Melissa Toogood, who has participated in the Festival annually since 2015. “Having the support of so many is a beacon that says what we do matters, and that we will have an audience waiting to welcome us back when we can come to Vail again.”

A primary focus of the Festival is to create collaborative opportunities between dance and music, and every year a wide range of musicians come to Vail each summer. In addition to dancers and production personnel, the Artists Relief Fund has also supported those musical artists. 

“It means so much to me to have received the Artist Relief Grant at a time when venues around the world have shuttered, and much of our performance income has dwindled,” wrote drummer Savannah Harris, who participated in the Festival in 2018, 2019, and in the Digital Festival 2020. “From the depths of my heart, thank you so much! This grant has allowed me to push forward with creative projects and maintain my personal security.” 

In addition to their missed opportunity to be a part of the Vail Dance Festival, grant recipients were scheduled to participate in hundreds of other cancelled company and individual performances at arts venues and festivals around the world. 

The Vail Dance Festival is in the process of planning an exciting return for next summer, with the hope to host live performances in Vail, once again, beginning July 30, 2021. In the meantime, the Festival is continuing to produce virtual content and commissioning artists to create new work for online performances.

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