Gibney, the New York City-based pioneer in framing dance as an agent for social good, recently received a $2 million gift from Andrew A. Davis, a trustee of the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund for its resident company, Gibney Company.

The commitment will fund the company’s reinvention as a commission-based repertory group—that is, a company not grounded in the aesthetic of a founding choreographer—and allow it to double in size from six dancers to 12. The model will allow Gibney to work with renowned and rising international choreographers representing a broad range of aesthetics and techniques. “The stage is set,” Davis said, for Gibney “to establish a wholly new paradigm for a contemporary dance company.”

As strange as it may sound, New York hasn’t had a repertory company since 2015. “There’s such an opportunity to create something big,” said CEO and artistic director Gina Gibney, who founded the company in 1991.“There won’t be a house aesthetic, which hopefully means we’ll show work that represents the depth and breadth of all New York.” Gibney Company will make its official debut in November 2021.

The other big story here is Gibney’s success in engaging the community around its social justice-oriented programming. “When we speak to artists, activists, dancers, instructors, supporters, survivors and staff about what Gibney means to them,” Gibney told me, “we hear over and over that Gibney is a place where people feel empowered, where artists and activists have a home in which to train and exchange ideas, to work and to create.”

“The transformation of Gibney Company is entirely Gina’s vision,” Davis told me. “When she walked me through its history, its evolution to date, and most importantly, where she wants to take the company, I was more than impressed. Add to it the benefit to the larger dance community and NYC? The grant became an easy decision.”

Social Integrity and Community Action

Gibney’s mission statement cites a commitment to an “uncompromising focus on artistic excellence and social integrity.” These are “two core values we strive to embody every day,” Gibney said. “As a fully engaged, socially active company of artists, Gibney Company develops not only the technical strengths in its dancers, but also supports and activates their intellectual gifts and social impact concerns, and empowers them to bring their full selves to their engagement with each other and the wider world.”

“Since our founding, social justice has been a vital component of our work,” Gibney told me. She highlighted what she called “three major violence interventions”—Move to Move Beyond, a program of movement workshops that addresses trauma; Hands are for Holding, a school-based assembly program that uses dance to address bullying, equity and choice; and Global Community Action Residencies (CAR), in which Gibney reps export its Community Action Program model to local and international organizations.

Through the program, Gibney provides hundreds of movement workshops per year that use dance to support survivors of intimate partner violence. “We also organize in-school assemblies to promote healthy relationships among youth, and host robust social justice programming at Gibney’s Community Action Hub,” Gibney said. Another resource, Moving Toward Justice: An Arts & Community Action Incubator, supports projects that use art as a tool for activism and social impact. 

“This work is vital to Gibney’s core mission,” Gibney told me, while acknowledging “an increased urgency for arts organizations to create socially conscious programming and to serve more diverse audiences.” This demand “is coming not just from donors but from artists, audiences and our communities, as well.” Gibney encouraged organizations to look “not only to what they are presenting on their stages or on their walls but also to who is walking through their doors. We all benefit when more diverse audiences experience our immersive social justice programming.”

Davis appreciated Gibney’s social justice and community engagement work, calling it “visionary” and describing his gift as “an investment in the future” that will “open new doors that will allow Gibney to fully realize this vision.”

Prelude to a Gift

Davis’ gift caps an eventful three-year stretch in which Gibney—which has received support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Harkness Foundation for Dance, the Jerome Robbins Foundation and Trust, and Morgan Stanley—laid the groundwork for its reinvention.

In December of 2017, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the then-named Gibney Dance $600,000 to expand its Dance in Process program and offer two fully supported production residencies. “This grant is not only extremely generous, it’s visionary—and its cumulative effect will be resounding,” Gibney said at the time.

In March of 2018, Gibney Dance rebranded its resident dance company as Gibney Company. “The name is still a nod to our history of being artist-founded and woman-led,” Gibney told the New York Times. “It’s just now a little bolder, and a little more direct.” (The organization as a whole is simply known as Gibney.) The announcement coincided with the unveiling of 10,000 square feet of new facilities at 280 Broadway, one of the two buildings Gibney occupies. Three months later, Gibney appointed Eva Yaa Asantewaa to the newly created position of curatorial director.

Davis told me he was introduced to Gibney through a mutual friend “who had spoken highly of her and of the work that the entire Gibney organization has done.” Davis “learned much more once we met and had a chance to become acquainted. I realized that she is a catalyst who knows how to harness resources and then focus them for maximum impact.”

“Incremental Steps Can Lead to Big Change”

Davis is president of the Tuscon-based Davis Selected Advisers and portfolio manager for the Davis Real Estate Fund. Davis was a trustee at his alma mater, Colby College, from 1999 to 2006 and served as a Colby overseer and a member of the alumni council. He established a scholarship fund for international student aid in 2009. In 2013, he gave the college a $10 million naming gift for the Davis Science Center.

The Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund was named after his grandfather, an American business executive who established Shelby Cullom Davis & Company in the late 1940s. When Davis passed in 1994, his family established the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund with an endowment from Davis’ last will and testament. The fund has provided support for a host of initiatives at Colby, including the Davis United World College Scholars program.

Through the fund, Davis directed a major gift toward the construction of a new academic building at Holderness School, an independent boarding and day school in New Hampshire. He has supported a number of arts organizations in New Mexico, including the Highland Theater in Albuquerque, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Santa Fe Symphony, and the Santa Fe Concert Association. He is the founder of the Davis New Mexico Scholarship, the largest private scholarship fund in the state of New Mexico, and is a member of the Special Projects Committee of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Davis also provided support to the East Boothbay, Maine-based Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. In a profile on Bigelow’s site, Davis said that as a philanthropist, he tries “to look for where the money isn’t. That’s where you find the diamonds in the rough.” Davis further elaborated this philosophy, telling me, “I’m drawn to opportunities that inspire me as an investor as much as a philanthropist. Incremental steps can lead to big change, given the right combination of leadership, funding and timing. My interest is in supporting those who are the drivers in making a difference in the world.”

As for Gibney, she believes that fundraising is about “creating relationships of trust, respect and possibility. Promise-keeping and integrity on both sides is vital to building these relationships. This takes time and patience and a willingness to weather disappointment and rejection.”

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