Reflections on an Interview with Katie Faulkner, director of the Little Seismic Dance Company
Katie Faulkner is a renowned Bay Area choreographer and artistic director of Little Seismic Dance Company. This interview was conducted on September 23rd, 2012.
Katie Faulkner studied dance growing up and pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Theater and Playwriting at Hampshire College. There she was able to design her own thesis and major which allowed her to feed her own curiosity. Throughout her education, Katie was encouraged to be a strong learner and find her own voice to negotiate her disparate and artistic interests. She eventually went back to her old dance studio where she grew up and fell in love with dance all over again- she was reminded that dance is the true language I speak. Katie then decided to go to school to study dance and forge a connection to the Bay Area at Mills College’s MFA program. It was an old program at the time; it really glorified the aesthetic and values of early 20thcentury Western Modern dance. Katie claims that she was naive and didn’t know better about what she was learning- “the program didn’t value experimentation or collaboration so it didn’t prepare me for the real world.”
The benefits of having an MFA allows you to hold a university level teaching position- it is a terminal degree so it gives you access to an assistant professorship. With a Bachelor’s degree you can’t hold a ten-year professorship. Also, an MFA is a terminal degree so it isn’t moving toward a PhD.
While applying to Graduate school, consider three things: first, the focus of the program and finding the right program for you: are you interested in choreographing, pedagogy, performing? Second, the location: you will be building connections in that community so it becomes your professional foundation as well. Third, the financial burden you can take on. Also, going to Graduate school right out of college might not be the best option. Katie suggested finding what is most exciting to you and then decide how to supplement that with a Master’s degree- be realistic about what practical skills they’re going give you for when you leave.
Katie began teaching modern dance at a ballet studio, and got her first job through referrals. She also did some auditioning but was never excited about it- she really loved rehearsing and process more than performing. Katie started doing a lot of teaching and eventually got hired at University of San Francisco. It was then, in 2005, that she decided to start Little Seismic Dance Company.
Katie has been choreographing for over six years and has only had to self produce two shows. She has done a lot of co-productions through her residency at ODC, festival programs, etc. She eventually pursued fiscal sponsorship instead of becoming a non-profit. Katie functions as an independent artist so she is fiscally sponsored- she developed a relationship with a non-profit organization called Dancers’ Group which allows her to use their non-profit number while applying for grants. They take 10% of all profits but in exchange offer a lot of services- they can even function as your bank of sorts. These non-profit organizations have varying degrees of control over your money. Working with a fiscal sponsor gives you tax advantages and tax accountability for when you start paying people. Also, handling new income is often challenging- when your income gets big enough connect yourself with accountants and tax people who specialize in working with artists. The benefit of working with an organization like this is that they take over the responsibility of dealing with money. You can be fiscally sponsored as both an individual or as a company.
If you are not fiscally sponsored, the Theater Bay Area Cash Grant is the only source of money you’d qualify for. The Zellerbach Grant is from a local foundation with a regular granting cycle that occurs two or three times a year. Justifying grant money depends on the grant- usually it includes listing artist fees, making a budget, describing the show, listing personel and production costs, listing other sources of income, etc. You will have to write an application and then a final report once the show is over. A final report includes sending information and a narrative description about how the grant helped make the show possible.
Katie’s advice for emerging artists was this:
“I can’t overstate how important relationships are in the field, as well as being willing to work hard, easy to work with, kind, and respectful. The dance world is a small community on an international scale so work with integrity. If you are entering a creative field you have to make a creative go at it- there is no one road map to follow. Ask questions- don’t feel like you need to know what you don’t know. Lean on people and let them lean on you because we make work for eachother! Be a vital member of a community because people who isolate themselves have the most trouble and set themselves up for the most frustration. Everyone finds their own balance through internal and external necessity.
Try interesting partnerships, like some sort of San Diego/San Francisco dance exchange. Use your presence to give your audiences access to many perspectives- cross pollination is valuable. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! These days there are more and more people wanting fewer resources so a social networking model is most sustainable. Only move toward projects that you have clarity and focus about, and don’t do anything just because you have to. Follow your own rhythm and curiosity, otherwise you can burn out and get doubly crossed by any obstacle you battle. Also, find a balance between your company and other projects- don’t just take time off but redirect your focus to other ways of being creative and finding engagement. Dance between necessity and will.”
Reflections on an Interview with Joe Goode, director of the Joe Goode Performance Group
Joe Goode is the founder and director of the Joe Goode Performance Group. He also a professor in the Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Department at the University of California at Berkeley.
Joe Goode says he was inspired to start a dance company because he had already been dancing professionally for ten or twelve years. He was already touring and being invited to festivals as an independent artist. He says he created a company because he was taking people away from their day jobs which felt like an unfair distribution of responsibilities. As a company that needed money he could then start applying for grants because to get a grant you need to have a 501(c)3 status.
Joe Goode danced as a kid with his sisters and got in to all of his classes for free because he was a boy. He says he loved the attention- dance class was a place he was impressive and loved. When he started college, Joe wanted to change the world- he was already in a ballet company but he thought he wasn’t going to change the world as a prince in tights because it wasn’t contemporary enough. Joe eventually moved from dancing to theater and writing but started doing modern dance in college. He cycled through various performance media but none of those forms by themselves felt right. He says he didn’t want to play roles- he didn’t see the relevance to contemporary issues. Joe went to New York City and it was easy for me to get hired, but nothing was very satisfying for him. He desired something personal to reveal his complicated vision of the world as a Southern gay man. He wanted to step forward with that vision, with Formalistic Modern dance as dance with no content or story or spoken words.
Eventually, Joe moved to San Francisco and retired from performing arts because he says he was too much of a lightweight. He began working with Margret Jenkins because we had worked with similar people. Joe crept back into the studio with the knowledge and skills of writing, acting, and dancing. He claims he could have only done this in San Francisco and not in New York- he was free to make the work he was trying to make because he wasn’t trying to have a career at that point. Joe made some solos and finally made something he liked and was interested in, and eventually solos became duets, duets became group works, and group works became a posse of people.
San Francisco is a hotbed for alternative thinking, medicine and spirituality and sexuality and food. People come here because they know they will be allowed to experiment- it attracts people who are rugged and want to live without the shackles of societal forms and structures. There is no mistake that Silicone Valley is where it is, because it too is full of start up companies.
Joe explains that he doesn’t like San Francisco as much as he used to though; the bohemian reputation has diminished because of the cost of living. Despite putting energy toward free-thinking, San Francisco is a provincial town- money is often old money and it goes to conservative arts administrations like the ballet, opera, and symphony. Also, critics often champion works from other places. Media like contact improv, aerial dance, butoh, and contraband all came from here but left because they didn’t get supported.
In spite of the way San Francisco has changed, Joe’s company the Joe Goode Performance Group has had extreme success. Joe first of all has developed relationships with his funders. This is often meticulous but he takes that very seriously. He also only applies for grants that interest him- sometimes doing specific grant work doesn’t match his desires or skills.
Secondly, Joe claims to have just been very lucky and received good advice along the way. When he got an initial grant, he spent that money on getting help to write other grants. Funders are people- smart people. They know when you are bullshitting them so you have to establish your integrity. Accounting for every penny is beyond important.
Third, Joe cares about his audience. He says he is not afraid of entertaining them- his work has humor and tells human stories. He takes into consideration who is out there and if they are having an experience that is teaching them something. He likes to also introduce them to new ideas and entertain them because he doesn’t want to be boring or feel exclusive to audiences. Joe thinks about experiences a lot; this had led him to do instillation type work. He wants to make his work surprising and interesting but still true. Joe tours his work to a lot of different places which means it is accessible to many different audiences- that has been key to having lasted this long.
Joe reflects that he sees a lot of young people start dance companies. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Because board members become fiscally responsible for a company by making a minimum donation, dancers must be paid through a bunch of red tape. There are issues of insurance too- running a dance company is very layered so often people don’t spend enough time on their art. They haven’t made any artistic contributions because their research and development becomes about the company instead of about the art.
Having a dance company is not a stable lifestyle- it is probably going to become something else to have to do. To professionalize a dance thing is a mistake because then you have two jobs; it is better to get together out of passion and love without the expectation of making money, becoming famous, or having a large audience. It is best to not put that pressure on yourself.
Joe has extremely insightful advice for emerging artists: you have to work up to the bigger projects. Often people make very naïve work that shoots them in the foot- make a five minute piece you would die to see. It’s not about volume, it’s about passion and originality. Find what is unique about your approach and build a community that way. Make something small with people who get you; the scale and fanciness doesn’t matter but originality matters. You have to be interested in your own work which is something that really comes across. That way, there will be an audience- having a devoted and small audience is a lot to accomplish.
Reflections on an Interview with Natalie Marsh, intern for Dancers’ Group San Francisco
Natalie Marsh is a student of the UC Berkeley department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies as well as a Student Dance Rep to the department. She has served as an intern for Dancers’ Group San Francisco.
Natalie explained that Dancers’ Group San Francisco is a fiscal sponsor for smaller modern dance groups who can’t become non-profits on their own. She suggested becoming an intern, signing up for their bulletin, and apply to be funded. The Young Artist Program seemed like an excellent option as well because you can get paired with an established artist to learn the ropes of the professional dance world first hand. The Bay Area Performing Arts Spaces is a great resource for finding rehearsal and performance spaces that are affordable for any and every purpose.
Dina Solomon works as a fundraiser for Cal Performances and has experience with institutional fundraising for other non-profits including Carnegie Hall.
Dina Solomon has worked as a fundraiser for various organizations and non-profits to raise money through institutional giving from private and government organizations. She explains that setting up or being involved with a non-profit is advantageous because of the tax benefits for donors. Fiscal sponsorship is a great alternative to getting a non-profit status- Dina explained that she has worked with Fractured Atlas which is an organization that fiscally sponsors artists and acts as a middle-man when dealing with donations.
Getting donors can involve foundations as well as individual giving. There is also an option of getting funds from the government but this option is often more tedious and has limited opportunities. The only opportunity to get government money in Berkeley is through the City of Berkeley Civic Arts Program. When applying for funding, you can’t change yourself and your program to fit the giving guidelines of the grant- it is best to see what their focus is and spin what you are doing so you can make it work for you. Another important aspect of fundraising is establishing a relationship with the funders of the organizations you are working with.
There are three types of foundations: family foundations which are run by families as a vehicle for donations, private foundations run by a staff and board of directors, and community foundations localized in the East Bay, San Francisco, and Silicone Valley. A great way to make initial contact with these sorts of foundations is with a cover letter in addition to regular application materials. If the initial response might be a “no”, ask to add these organizations to your distribution list so they can receive info from you in the future, ask about their next grant cycle, and be proactive!
Dina’s advice continued as such: find people who are doing things similar to you to gain access to information about their donors and grant money. It is also helpful to find other organizations who know how to help get funding for the arts in the place where your work is actually being done. When it comes to proposal writing, give them what they want and follow the guidelines as closely as possible. Proposal writing is like sales, and these organizations like to support worthwhile projects. The timeline for funding often depends on when board meetings occur so it is best to get proposals in way before these meetings occur.
An excellent resource for arts funding is The Foundation Center, which is a bank of information about organizations that provide financial support for the arts. They have a San Francisco office that provides seminars and workshops, as well as a library of periodicals with listings about arts organizations. The Foundation Center also has an online database of every registered private and family donor in the United States. This database allows you to search the organizations by grantee, donor, etc. and is listed as the Foundation Directory