Dance Theatre of Harlem in rehearsal for "Passage," 2018. Photo by Brian Callan.
For Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell, ballet was more than an art form—it was essential, both as a means to individual transformation and as a platform for social justice. In 1969, in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mitchell and his former instructor Karel Shook started a school in the basement of a Harlem church to offer children the opportunity to study dance as a way to change their lives. Over the past five decades as DTH has become a multicultural touring company that has captivated audiences around the world, it has remained deeply rooted in the Harlem community.
As DTH looks ahead to its next 50 years, a $4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation affirms the company’s vitality as a cultural institution that has led the way for so many. A matching grant of $1 million to be raised by the DTH Board of Directors willbring the total support to $5 million. Funds will support the organization’s capacity building efforts, which include improvements to salaries for artists and staff; investments in fundraising infrastructure and leadership; and innovative artistic and community building initiatives.
The largest single grant made to the company in its history comes at a transformative moment, says artistic director Virginia Johnson, one of the DTH’s founding members and former principal ballerina. “Not only is the grant a tribute to our history of blazing through barriers to dancers of color,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to redefine ballet for the 21st century by developing new voices, establishing a culture of artistic inquiry, and producing meaningful art.” Building on existing initiatives, Johnson will focus on commissioning new works with an emphasis on nurturing the next generation of choreographers of color.
The strength of the artistic program will be supported by an equally robust infrastructure under the management of executive director Anna Glass. Since her arrival at DTH in 2015, Glass has focused on long-term sustainability, increasing fundraising capacity by shaping a reinvigorated board and developing plans to launch a $25 million capital campaign. Glass and the company’s visionary leadership remain grounded in the founders’ vision to cultivate a diverse institution that will lead the way to a future where ballet belongs to everyone.
Peter Libbey, "Dance Theater of Harlem Awarded Its Biggest Gift Yet," The New York Times, January 14, 2020.
"Mellon Foundation Gives $4 Million to Dance Theater of Harlem,"Artforum, January 15, 2020.