The Creative Administration Research program pairs choreographers with what it calls thought partners, collaborators who might be business-minded arts administrators, funders or presenters, but who are also often working artists. The composer and educator Byron Au Yong, who has been a thought partner for the choreographers Raja Feather Kelly and Takahiro Yamamoto, said the breadth of that adviser pool sets the initiative apart.
“There are business and marketing consultants out there, but unless you have an embodied, lived experience of working in the arts in the United States, how can you advise a dance artist?” Au Yong said. “There will always be a disconnect.”
During a series of online retreats, each team reflects on how the choreographer makes work and what kind of structure might best support their process. The program has also hosted two summits, bringing several dozen artists and leaders to the center’s University of Akron home to share their insights into creative administration. (And to dance together — or to “physicalize their administrative thinking and dreaming,” as a news release said.)
For some participating choreographers, the initiative has prompted dramatic change. Banning Bouldin, who uses they/them pronouns, formerly ran their Nashville organization, New Dialect, as a conventional dance company, though their goal was to create a dance hub for the city. A thought partner, John Michael Schert, helped Bouldin recognize that the company model “only fit maybe 40 percent of what we were doing,” Bouldin said, and that it was hampering the organization’s community organizing and engagement efforts. Now, rather than employing a small roster of full-time dancers, New Dialect dedicates more resources to professional development workshops, residencies and performance production.
“Philosophically, we made a really meaningful shift,” Bouldin said. “We’re serving more artists and more of the community in a way that’s financially sustainable.”
Rosie Herrera, the director of Rosie Herrera Dance Theater, found that Creative Administration Research affirmed many of her existing ways of working. Through conversations with thought partners and other artists in the program, she said, she realized that “as a Latina in Miami, who started out just making work with her friends,” she had intuitively avoided many “best practice” traps.