BottomsUP talk about the BOARD

A couple of weeks ago, vîv was invited to give a talk about our new Board of Protectors at an event produced by the Emerging Arts Professionals about cutting edge arts administration practices.  Here's the speech we gave:

I’m here with vîv, a wonderful new dance company here in San Francisco.  About a year ago, 8 of us got together to reimagine what a life in dance could be...but let me begin with another story.

When I graduated from college in 2007, I decided to live the dancer’s dream--I moved to New York City to see if I could Make It.  I was very lucky--in the 2 years that I lived there, I had the great pleasure of dancing for many of the choreographers that I had always dreamed of working with.  I danced at the Metropolitan Opera, performed nationally and internationally and worked with some of the most talented dancers of our generation.  The companies that I worked with were typical of the “uptown” dance scene--auditions with 500 or more dancers competing for 1 or 2 roles, older choreographers, younger dancers, large theaters, big donors.   What I found in these dance companies was not what I had hoped to find.  Rather than being surrounded by mature dancers bursting with joy and creativity, I found that the company environment was rigid and competitive, and many of the dancers that I worked with were not so happy.  I was really disheartened by this experience and after a couple of years of living in New York, I decided to move back to California and landed here in San Francisco.

The dance scene in San Francisco is really special--very small and intimate, very supportive, lots of opportunities to make work, lots of creative interplay and inspiration.  I probably know 95% of San Francisco modern dancers by face and possibly even by name--we work project to project, dance for our peers and perform several times a year.  Though the scene can be provincial at times, it’s also very fertile.  Most of us patchwork together a very rich and colorful artistic life.

[SIDENOTE: I sent this talk that I had typed out to the whole crew and one of my co-dancers Hallie who is the realist to my optimist had this to say: This paints a great picture - perhaps a little too great, as it leaves me wondering why we would need to reimagine anything here in friendly, fertile SF.  There are so many limitations and frustrations (lack of funding and how that limits artistic opportunities; the difficulty of balancing the need to earn a living with donating your time to passion projects, etc)--talking about them would give context for why viv is necessary.  Thank you, Hallie!  And I’ll also add that our entire field is creatively debilitated by the lack of mature artists and opportunity to work across artistic generations.  As it is now, staying in dance is unsustainable--it is too draining emotionally, physically and financially.]

About a year ago, 8 of us gathered together and began vîv with a revolutionary idea--rather than waiting for our Dream Dance Job, we’d take action and commission the work that we want to perform!  All of my fellow company members are incredible dancers with stories much like mine--veterans of companies who wanted a more healthy experience--a life in dance that doesn’t end in burn-out.  By pooling our energy, we could give a choreographer the opportunity to make a dance for an amazing group of dancers and share bold new work with the city of San Francisco.  Would the work be more rich? More inspired? More full? By empowering ourselves to create abundance, what beauty might emerge?  

I’ll tell you the that we’ve started down this path of taking charge of our own professional lives, it feels rather strange that we didn’t start sooner.  We ran a successful Kickstarter, raised $8K, commissioned OUROBOROS from San Francisco dance icon La ALTERNATIVA, premiered the piece in January of 2014 and were very well received.  Next week, we’re heading to Southern California to teach, perform and share our work with friends and family there.  When we return, we’ll start our next project and launch our next fundraising campaign!  

ALL OF THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING...and now after all that exposition, I’ll present our next experiment: Our goal is to create a Board of Protectors--200 people knit into our community who will agree to donate $10 per month to support our work.

vîv is about re-creation.  We seek new ways of operating that are more suited to this remarkable moment in time.  We want to know--can we create our Board from within our community?  A Board of Protectors.

Who’s on this Board?   People who are good at what they do.   People who want to live in a world that is fair and full of life.  People who know things that we don’t know.  People who have thoughts about art that they don’t always share.  People who are creative in thousands of ways each day.  A good place to start is in this room….if you’re picking up up what we’re laying down, if what we’re doing resonates with you, we want You to be on our Board.

What would it be like to be on our Board?  We’d ask you out for coffee or a picnic and sit and chat about anything and everything.  We’d occasionally ask you for advice and opinions.  You’d get free tickets to all of our performances and invitations to all of our parties.  You’d commit to giving vîv $10 each month.  We’d send you a token of our thanks--a hip Tshirt or a box of artsy notecards.  Most importantly, we’d inspire one another.

We choose a financial commitment of $10 per month because it’s an amount that everyone I know on a first-name basis could agree to contribute, if they choose to.  It’s a fancy cocktail or a buritto--or a Netflix membership (and there’s isn’t much on Watch-Instantly these days anyways…)  It’s an hour of studio space to make art in.  It’s an hour of a professional dancer’s time.  It’s significant and also infinitely possible.

Our reasons for choosing a recurring donation are twofold--one is that we believe it is more respectful--we don’t want to harass our supporters with more and more asks, we don't want more money or more 'donate here' links on endless mass emails. We all desire simplicity.  Also, it gives us a more clear idea of our cashflow situation so we can budget responsibly.

This way of fundraising is exciting for several reasons.

Dance is never supported by ticket sales.  A friend of mine, Charles Slender, once calculated that if tickets were going to pay for production costs, they’d be $262 each, rather than $20.  So in the world of dance, we’re always looking for other ways to support the work.  Usually, that means asking for money from wealthy (and therefore powerful) folks--foundations, friends and family.

But what happens to art when it’s made to garner support from those in power?  What small compromises need to be made to appeal to them?  We’ve noticed that kind of art is often more athletic than intimate, more clean than chaotic, dancers are younger and skinnier, and choreographers are white men as often as not.  Ick.  We want to cut that cord and make work that reflects who’s in the field and who’s in the room, art that is empowering and beautiful and rich.

At the same time, what happens to art when a larger community of folks are invested in it?  We want to invite ALL kinds of thinkers to be involved in our creation process.  Dancers, musicians, waiters, techies, nurses, doctors, artists, parents.  Yes yes and yes!  What can we make together?  There’s nothing more refreshing than going to see art with my friends who are not enmeshed in the art world...they have clear eyes and sharp minds to bring new perspective to the work.

Another really positive thing about this fundraising model is that it frees up our time to do the dancing--rather than continually launching new fundraising campaigns, more Kickstarters and writing more grants.  Even though we have the incredible privilege of spreading out the administrative load among all 7 of us, it’s still a ton of work...and we’ll have plenty to do even when this fundraising campaign takes off!

Our plan is to roll out our campaign in 2 phases--we’ll have a silent phase where we ask friends and family to join our Board.  Then we’ll have a public launch--using social media to spread the word, contacting local businesses and more distant acquaintances and likely getting some press coverage as well.

So--this evening...we’d love for you to vote for our project.  If we win this grant, we’ll use the funds as the foundation of the public phase of our campaign.  We’ll have the resources to make an excellent and professional, clever and sincere video inspiring folks to join our Board of Protectors--something that will go VIRAL ; )  And we’ll be able to invest in some genuinely appealing Board sign-up thank you gifts.  But honestly, as much as we’d appreciate your vote this evening, what we’d like is for you to join our Board.  If you’re inspired by what we’re doing, if you’re excited about art made by all of us and for all of us, powerful and exciting and mature and joyful, then join us!  Re-create dance with vîv!

Boom.  Thank you.