Theater archives

The Money Trap


Cutbacks in dance funding by the National Endowment for the Arts have resulted in an atmosphere of increased conservatism. Individual artists can no longer apply for grants. Gone are the days when an artist with an NEA award could approach a producer with a mutually beneficial proposition. Currently, the reduced NEA budget is reallocated directly to institutions. As a result of congressional bullying, producers can be penalized for supporting “offensive” art. Producers now have less money, less autonomy, and more to lose from a failed endeavor. They have become even more influential in their capacity as gatekeepers. Most venues have programming committees and/or curators who can accommodate “showcase” opportunities, but the vast majority of programming is still the province of a single artistic executive. Famous dancers from companies of note get preference over choreographers with well-honed skills. Race and gender trump artistic abilities. Craft and formalism are in vogue while intuitive expression and content are perceived as risky. The purveyors of good, proper, and popular taste maintain the status quo.

When I moved to New York in 1987, dance was alive and vital. I have seen the mainstreaming of artistic expression as eccentric, unpredictable voices have been marginalized. Some cream occasionally rises, but most is simply filtered out.

It’s not what you do or how well you do it but rather who knows you. To generate interest and momentum, one must navigate information, publicity strategies, booking dynamics, press relations, etc. In the financially strapped, self-censoring world of dance now, the trust-fund artist has the best shot at success.

Anderson is a dancer and choreographer.