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In a sentence: The dance funding ecosystem is small compared to other performing arts, and the impacts of the pandemic on top of decades of declining public funding mean a growing role for philanthropy.

What’s going on

Support for dance is modest, we found in our State of American Philanthropy report. But private funding plays a critical role in sustaining organizations and dancers.

The majority of giving for dance goes to ballet, and it’s important to understand that ballet companies—especially the big ones—operate in a different universe from most dance organizations. Some renowned ballet companies have large endowments, budgets in the tens of millions, and boards full of the wealthy and well-connected.

Meanwhile, legions of contemporary dance companies, folk dance groups, dance education nonprofits, and other dance organizations are operating on shoestring budgets with minimal full-time staff, if any. Many dancers work other jobs to pay the bills.

This is also a field where earned income (notably, ticket sales) plays a bigger role than in many other nonprofit sectors. With events canceled, the pandemic has prompted a lot of creativity in terms of virtual events, virtual fundraising, and initiatives to sustain individual artists.

By the numbers

  • The dance field’s top 10 grantmakers collectively gave $297 million from 2014 to 2018—considerably less than in music ($466 million) and theater ($400 million), according to data from Candid.
  • A Dance/USA survey of 109 dance organizations found that only 7% had annual budgets over $500,000.
  • The median hourly wage for dancers in May 2020 was $18.58, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Key funders

For the average dance organization, individual donors are the leading source of support. Major donors often make a substantial impact on an organization and/or a dance community. In New York, John Arnhold and Jody Gottfried gave millions to Columbia University for dance education, and $5 million to the 92nd Street Y’s Harkness Dance Center. In L.A., Glorya Kaufman gave $20 million for L.A. County’s premiere dance event series and a multimillion-dollar donation to start the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.

A handful of large institutional grantmakers such as the Andrew W. Mellon, Doris Duke Charitable, Howard Gilman and Shubert foundations support dance as part of broader missions. Their support is complemented by smaller national and regional grantmakers and community foundations. A notable dance-focused foundation is the Harkness Foundation for Dance.

Also significant in this area is Dance/USA, a regrantor that offers fellowships to support individual artists. Artist-endowed foundations such as the George Balanchine Foundation, Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation and Jerome Robbins Foundation are also a growing force.

New and notable 

Food for thought

“If we truly believe that the arts are an essential part of our lives, then as philanthropists, we must create more financial stability for artists, particularly those BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities hardest hit by economic ebbs and flows.” — Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, here

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