What Fiscally Sponsored Dance Artists Need to Flourish

CreateNYC, the new cultural plan for the City of New York, commits to increasing support for the vast segment of independent artists who have entered into an arrangement known as “fiscal sponsorship” with legally registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit institutions. Under this arrangement, sponsors provide financial and legal oversight and share their tax-exempt status. The City’s welcome commitment responds directly to an artswide report, Advancing Fiscally Sponsored Artists & Art Projects, published by the organization I run, Dance/NYC, and a coalition of fiscal sponsor partners.

Now, the research coalition offers a discipline-specific report, Advancing Fiscally Sponsored Dance Artists & Projects, to reveal the unique characteristics, needs, and opportunities of sponsored dance artists and advocates and to guide further action.

Fiscally sponsored dance artists and projects are contributing to the creative sector and the city in clear and meaningful ways. At 460, the estimated minimum number of sponsored dance projects is nearly three times the number of 501(c)(3) dance groups surveyed for Dance/NYC’s recent State of NYC Dance & Workforce Demographics. The majority of the sponsored workforce is based outside Manhattan, serving boroughs that are less saturated with dance activity. Most sponsored dance workers are also working in and across the disciplines of theater, film and electronic media, visual arts, music, and literary arts (2.7 disciplines on average per worker in the study sample) to achieve new creative horizons and impact.

Yet, the segment is significantly challenged in identifying and accessing the resources it needs to sustain and scale up its delivery of public value. Projects in the study sample run on lean annual budgets—approximately $18,400 on average—that are too small to incorporate many key artistic and operational costs. Worryingly, 32% of the sample reports going unpaid for its labor.

When rating areas of need, respondents identify affordable development space and living wages as their top priorities, followed by affordable presentation space; affordable healthcare, supplies and materials; and affordable training. The chronic undersupply of suitable affordable space to make and rehearse dance appears to be reaching a crisis point, following a spate of rehearsal space closures and given increased competition for real estate.

A chief hurdle for sponsored groups in meeting these needs is limited access to funding sources, in particular, overly restrictive foundation and government funding programs that exclude sponsored groups despite these groups’ tax-exempt status. While 93% of the dance sample receives charitable funding from individuals, 52% receives foundation grants, and only 28% receives government income from any source (City, State, or Federal).

Findings from a DataArts workforce demographics survey add critical dimension to understanding this landscape and the relationship between the sponsored dance workforce, its peers, and the local population.

There is some promising news in the survey results. For example, 10% of the sponsored dance workforce identifies as disabled, matching the percentage of New Yorkers who identify as disabled, according to US Census data, and suggesting the growing movement of disability arts may be finding a home in the sponsorship arena. The percentage of respondents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) is substantial at 28%. In terms of gender, 77% of respondents identify as female, outpacing the city’s overall population, which is 52% female.

However, findings on ethnicity and race are cause for alarm. With 67% of respondents self-identifying as white non-Hispanic, the sponsored dance workforce is slightly less homogeneous than the wider sponsored arts workforce surveyed, 74% of which identifies as white non-Hispanic, and the 501(c)(3) dance workforce, 68% of which identifies as white non-Hispanic, according to Dance/NYC research. Yet the findings stand in stark contrast to the city’s population, which is 33% white non-Hispanic, according to US Census data—signaling a need for explicit and sustained efforts to increase ethnic and racial diversity and to amplify the voices of African, Latina/o/x, Asian, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) populations in sponsored dance.

A relatively small share (17%) of dance workforce respondents indicates a nation of birth outside the United States, compared to the city’s population, of which 37% is foreign born. This gap invites deeper research and action to engage New Yorkers born outside the United States, including immigrant artists, in the sponsored dance landscape.

The report offers four specific and practical recommendations to advance fiscally sponsored dance artists and projects. First and foremost, it recommends meeting development space needs through both the creation of new, permanent affordable spaces and the protection and increased use of existing spaces suitable for dance, for instance, by strengthening communications environments and expanding space subsidy programs.

Second, it recommends guaranteeing and raising wages for sponsored dance workers by tackling systemic barriers, such as funding requirements that limit administrative overhead, and by empowering employers and employees to collaborate on solutions.

Third, it articulates short-, mid-, and long-term goals to raise the overall level and efficacy of funding for sponsored dance, from refreshing existing government and foundation grant programs to educating individual donors.

Fourth, it advocates a greater role for sponsored dance in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts already under way in the creative sector, as well as the development of targeted activities based on survey findings, with a focus on addressing ethnic and racial inequities and engaging New Yorkers born outside the United States.

These recommendations are intended to apply across a wide range of stakeholders, from public and private funders to dance making, presenting, and educational organizations. For Dance/NYC, the City’s new cultural plan is a significant milestone and a launching pad for strengthened and new advocacy. We need to be diligent in holding the City accountable to its commitments to individual artists and in ensuring that dance, and all its peer disciplines, are equitably served.

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