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Not all gloom and doom: a $670,000 grant for the Ordway

A six-figure grant to an arts organization is a hefty chunk of change, but the size takes on even more significance during a recession.

St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts recently landed a $670,000 multiyear grant from the Archibald Bush Foundation to increase the “scope and audience” for its New World Initiative series. An example of that programming is occurring this weekend, when Ballet Hispanico teaches the tango and whatnot to everyday folk at Cinema Ballroom on Saturday night, then turns around and takes the stage at the Ordway on Sunday.

The programming grant for world music and dance ranks among the top five the Ordway has received in its history, and it’s among the largest the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation has made since 2007 to large arts organizations like the Ordway to pursue new opportunities. Other big grants went to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis for its upcoming Tony Kushner festival ($700,000) and to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for developing a new business model ($750,000).

Bush senior program officer Nancy Fushan said she was impressed with the Ordway’s proposal to “increase new audiences and its artistic profile” through the program, which will reach out to more diverse communities.

Buys a little time
Ordway President and CEO Patricia Mitchell says the three-year grant buys the organization time to develop the program and gives it some cachet in raising matching funds during a recession. The grant requires that the Ordway raise about $65,000 each year.

“Building a dance audience, as any of the dance companies in the Twin Cities will tell you, is not a piece of cake,” Mitchell said. “I’m not saying that at the end of three years we will have 2,500 dance subscribers, but this does give us some breathing space.”

One of the ways to build a dance audience, she says, is to strengthen the connections between dance in people’s personal lives and professional dance. The Ballet Hispanico booking is an example of what the Ordway hopes to do.

“When you have somebody at Cinema Ballroom taking lessons and doing the tango and merengue, and they come back the next day and see those dances performed at the highest level, it makes, I think, for the person in the audience, a real connection between themselves and the artist and the art,” Mitchell says.

(You can read MinnPost’s Arts Arena item on Ballet Hispanico here.)

Expanded fellows program
Though Bush doesn’t have a ballpark number yet for grants to be awarded to arts organizations in 2009, giving was down between 2007 ($5.7 million) and 2008 ($4.55 million). Still, Bush made news with the expansion of its separately funded arts fellows program, including the addition of $100,000 enduring artist fellowships. Funding for fellowships to individuals increased to $1.1 million in 2008 from $750,000 in 2007. A commitment to the arts continues even as Bush changes its funding priorities under new leadership, Fushan said.

“We see the cultural sector as so important” to the success of a community, she said.

There’s no question that arts organizations and their funders face a bumpy ride during the recession, she said. Still, the arts community has dealt with these “weaves and warps in the economy” before.

“We are going to come out of this difficult period, and I want to believe that the organizations that survive will be stronger and more successful because they’ve been courageous in adapting — whether by questioning the relevance of and fine-tuning their mission, re-examining their value to and relationships with audiences and the larger community, and seeking the most effective operations,” she said.

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