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The National Center for Choreography-Akron to build Creative Administration Research program

Marjani Forte Saunders and Everett Saunders. Photo by Maria Baranova.
Marjani Forte Saunders and Everett Saunders. Photo by Maria Baranova.

The National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron (NCCAkron) announces a $750,000 multi-year award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build out a new program, Creative Administration Research (CAR). Over the next three years, NCCAkron will foster a national think tank of up to 20 dance Artist Teams to investigate alternative administrative practices in support of their discrete artistic visions. Every six months, cohorts of up to six dance artists will be onboarded to engage in the CAR program.

Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly and NCCAkron Executive/Artistic Director Christy Bolingbroke. Photo by Dale Dong.
Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly
and NCCAkron Executive/Artistic Director
Christy Bolingbroke. Photo by Dale Dong.

NCCAkron’s Executive/Artistic Director Christy Bolingbroke explained, “Creative Administration Research work developed out of a series of realizations and early prototypes dating back to 2018. We have been exploring the fact that NCCAkron helps new dances get made, but in many ways, we were also being complicit in a system where artists lack administrative infrastructure or a consistent operating environment. According to NEFA’s 2016 Moving Dance Forward report, at least 80 percent of today’s dance field work is created on a project or independent basis, but artists are asked to keep pace as if they are full-time or an incorporated nonprofit. The so-called best practices developed across our sector over the past 70 years are not necessarily best for everyone. Through our Creative Administration Research program, we aim to disrupt this dynamic.”

Challenging the dance ecosystem to think beyond the boundaries of known, traditional models, NCCAkron’s CAR program will add cohorts of five or six Artist Teams every six months for an accumulated 18-20 teams by the end of the grant period. Artist Teams will comprise choreographers and select administrative leaders (if the artist has a company or ensemble), a curated Thought Partner and NCCAkron staff members. Each Artist Team will engage in an artist-dedicated Investigative Retreat, with time and space to reflect on their body of work, examine critical pain points across operations, and imagine multiple ways forward. The paired Thought Partner will provide additional accountability in between Investigative Retreats. In 2022 and 2023, all active Artist Teams will gather in Akron, Ohio, for a Summit Convening to exchange experiences and working knowledge accumulated to date.

From 2018-20, NCCAkron prototyped Creative Administration Research with choreographers Raja Feather Kelly | the feath3r theory, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, and Brian Brooks/Moving Company. 

“Creative Administrative Research invites artists like me to develop and research administration practices that support my own artistic point of view, rather than accept or reinforce the one size fits all approach,” said Nigerian-American choreographer and visiting artist (2018, 2020-23) Jaamil Olawale Kosoko. “In this way by highlighting the unique perspectives of Black artists, our work together dismantles practices and behaviors upheld within white supremacy culture.”

The three prototype artists will continue their investigations and be joined by Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener and Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE as the first cohort. All have already begun this work remotely in fall 2020.

NCCAkron recently wrapped up the CAR Work-In-Process (WiP) Series as a first step in identifying potential Thought Partners as well as collecting program feedback from 41 thinkers and leaders across the performing arts sector. The CAR WiP Series scheduled small group discussions with arts administrators, artists, funders and presenters to discuss current dance business models and the potential around the CAR program.

By early 2021, NCCAkron will identify and match Thought Partners with the next curated cohort. This group includes Abby Zbikowski of Abby Z and the New Utility (Champaign-Urbana, IL); Bebe Miller, Bebe Miller Company (Columbus, OH); 7NMS| Marjani Forté-Saunders and Everett Saunders (Pasadena, CA); Kate Wallich, The YC (Seattle, WA); and Banning Bouldin, New Dialect (Nashville, TN). 

Abby Zbikowski. Photo by Effy Grey.
Abby Zbikowski. Photo by Effy Grey.

Bolingbroke shared, “I am so grateful not only to the Mellon Foundation for their visionary funding support but also for the trust shared by the artists and administrators joining us on this grand experiment. From the early prototype visits that allowed us to illustrate proof of concept to our Mellon colleagues to digging into the relative unknown as we establish next steps, this is unlike any other residency invitation. As we continue to explore and understand how this research takes shape, our hope is to expand this opportunity by open application before Year Three of the program.” 

Over the course of three years, NCCAkron will document and share discoveries from this work through a publishing partnership with The University of Akron Press. Named a series editor by the UA Press in 2020, NCCAkron plans to develop and publish two books per year, highlighting the labor and leadership of choreographers producing work today to thrive as dance and arts administration textbooks of tomorrow.

Incorporated in 2015, NCCAkron will celebrate its fifth anniversary in December 2020. Part of the Mellon award also allows for the Center to hire its second full-time employee, Program Manager Kat Wentz. With the support of founding partners DANCECleveland, the Knight Foundation and The University of Akron, NCCAkron strives to operate from a place of abundance and possibility, seeking out opportunities to be a hyperagent for dance: identifying new creative solutions that benefit the organization and the field at large. This has manifested in a re-imagining of what a choreographic center can do, instead offering adaptive, scaleable options for artists to “meet them where they are”; disrupting the lottery system of support by creating proximity and pluralist opportunities; and advocating for dance as a more central part of U.S. culture. Most of 2020 programming has transformed to remote or virtual operations due to COVID. In addition to the CAR program, NCCAkron is hosting a year-long Dancing Lab for Black, male-identified choreographers, Satellite Residencies aggregating resources with dance artists and institutions all over the country and will be publishing its first book written by Hope Mohr (San Francisco, CA) about shifting cultural power in July 2021.

For more information, visit www.nccakron.org

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