Dance Out Diabetes, a San Francisco–based nonprofit organization founded by Theresa Garnero, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator, encourages diabetics to shimmy, dip, and twirl their way to better health—and have fun while doing it.
The State Journal-Register said that Garnero has counseled numerous patients in a health-care setting during more than 25 years of nursing, but realized there still was work to be done outside the hospital. “I stepped back and looked at what was missing in the field,” she says. “In the medical world, we do a pretty good job of diagnosing and treating diabetes, but there isn’t as much of an emphasis on prevention and ongoing management. I wanted to change that.”
A former figure skating champion who once trained with Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano, Garnero always has been passionate about dance and choreography. So when looking for a safe, fun, and effective way to encourage her patients to lead healthier lives, dance was the obvious answer.
“Dancing is not only effective, but fun,” says Garnero, a full-time practice manager with the Madison Clinic for Pediatric Diabetes at the University of California–San Francisco. “When people dance, they get lost in the music and forget that they’re moving their bodies. It feels more like play than exercise.”
In addition to sponsoring free monthly dance classes in a variety of genres and styles, Dance Out Diabetes, which Garnero launched in 2010, offers access to health care at no charge.
To see the full story, visit http://www.sj-r.com/article/20131224/NEWS/312249951/10298/LIFESTYLE.
Gabriella Charter School—where great teachers are prized, and dance is central to the curriculum—was created by Liza Bercovici to honor the memory of her daughter, Gabriella, who loved to dance and wanted to be a teacher but was killed at age 13.
The Los Angeles Times said the California Charter Schools Association named Gabriella the school of the year last year, and then earlier this year, the school was ranked second among California elementary and middle charters by a USC rating system, despite a student body where more than 90 percent of the kids are classified as economically disadvantaged.
It started with the tragedy that broke Bercovici’s heart. She and her husband, both lawyers, were bike riding in Wyoming on vacation with their children when a passing driver reached to change a CD, swerved, and struck and killed Gabriella.
Bercovici was virtually paralyzed for months, too devastated to continue her family law practice. She didn’t know how to rebuild her life until the day she saw a newspaper story about a dance program for underserved kids in Orange County.
“It just hit me. ‘You know what? I wonder if there’s anything like that in L.A. . . . ’ It was completely out of left field because I knew nothing about dance. I can’t dance. I knew nothing about nonprofits.”
Bercovici recruited friends to help, secure a donated space near Koreatown to use as the dance studio, and distributed flyers in the MacArthur Park area and beyond. “We started out with 35 children and 12 classes a week,” she said of Everybody Dance. The following year there were 70 to 80 classes weekly, and today there are six studios in the city serving roughly 2,200 students, many of them paying just $7 monthly for daily instruction.
Some of Bercovici’s dance students attended a school called Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, and Bercovici saw no good reason not to start her own charter school, one with high academic standards and ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance. The school’s philosophy is that students aren’t just learning an art form in dance, they’re building confidence that carries over into other subjects. “The irony is overwhelming,” said Bercovici, who has turned devastating personal loss into opportunity for others. “I guess I’m trying to live my daughter’s life for her a little bit.”
To see the full story, visit http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-1222-lopez-gabriella-20131222,0,3901021.column#axzz2oJZgUXA2.
What it takes to change your school’s financial status
By Karen White
Thinking of changing your studio’s status to nonprofit, or creating a nonprofit entity to provide financial and organizational help for your team or company? Other studio owners who have done it have one initial piece of advice—don’t think it’s going to be easy.
“When I started, I thought this would be a great idea, but I had no idea how to do it,” says Carolyn Nelson-Kavajecz, founder and owner of Sterling Silver Studio, LLC, of Superior, Wisconsin. “It sounds like an easy process, but it was really time consuming.” But, she adds, “I learned that I’m not too proud to admit when I don’t know how to do something. If you ask enough questions, somebody will be willing to help you out with a good cause.”
The Sterling Silver Booster Club Inc. was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2004 to provide financial assistance to low-income or struggling students, and since 2008 has raised and distributed $45,000.
While this nonprofit is a separate entity that serves as a complement to the studio, other owners have chosen to place their entire business under a nonprofit designation. In either case, nonprofit status opens the door to receiving grants, helps to avoid some taxes, and proclaims to the public that fulfilling the organization’s mission takes precedence over making money.
Nonprofit status opens the door to receiving grants, helps to avoid some taxes, and proclaims to the public that fulfilling the organization’s mission takes precedence over making money.
Not to say that nonprofits don’t make money—they do. “When I started,” Larisa Hall says of her business, Tap Fever Studios in La Jolla, California, “I wanted it to be nonprofit, but somebody said, ‘If you are charging money for classes, you can’t be nonprofit,’ which wasn’t correct.”
A nonprofit business like a dance studio can charge for services, set its own pricing, pay employees (including the artistic director), and function—financially—in most ways like a for-profit. The difference is that any profit collected by a for-profit business will go to an owner or be distributed amongst shareholders, while a nonprofit serves a more altruistic master. For example, Sterling Silver Booster Club’s entire reason for being is to raise money that is handed out to dancers in need.
The organizational structure of a nonprofit also differs. While for-profits are run by an owner who makes all decisions, accepts all responsibility, and answers to no one, nonprofits are led by a board of directors who are—depending on how the nonprofit’s bylaws are structured—either somewhat or very involved with the operation, finances, and future of the organization.
Ask yourself: why?
When Hall had a hard time finding adult tap classes after moving to San Diego in 2003, she started thinking about opening a studio—and in her vision, it was always a nonprofit. “I didn’t want to have to say no to anybody. Anybody who wants to dance should be able to, even people with disabilities or who can’t afford it,” she says.
She knew that, as a nonprofit, her studio could apply for grants to help her fulfill that mission. (See “The Fine Art of Finding Money,” this issue.) Although her first few grant-writing efforts have fallen short, she plans to make a big push this year. “It’s really hard to get grants until you’ve been established for a few years, but I feel we are finally getting to the point where we have all our ducks in a row,” Hall says. “It’s important to me. People feel happy when they’re dancing, and I’d like to be able to provide that.”
Gail Harts had a similar idea in mind when she turned her studio from for-profit to nonprofit in 1999, 11 years after she first opened in Portsmouth, Virginia, with three students. “My studio was filled with kids who had the ability, talent, and desire, but didn’t always have the money” to pay for classes or competition travel expenses, she says. A core group of parents often pitched in with fundraising, but most of the costs were coming out of her own pocket.
“I don’t think the nonprofit is why I do what I do,” says Harts, whose school, Gail Harts Performing Arts Group Inc., is now located in Virginia Beach. “It’s just an avenue for me to be able to do more. It assists you with your vision, with your passion.”
After much thought, Nelson-Kavajecz decided against turning her entire studio nonprofit and chose to establish the Booster Club instead. She knew how much work and devotion it had taken her to build her studio and wondered if there would always be enough people willing to volunteer their time to continue to grow the studio if it transformed from an owner-operated business to a nonprofit led by a board of directors.
But she had a second reason as well. Since its inception in 1991, Sterling Silver had benefited from strong community support, Nelson-Kavajecz says. Her vision of a booster club was one that not only supported Sterling Silver students, but students of the arts throughout the community. Creating a separate nonprofit would ensure that the club could stay alive even if the studio was sold someday.
Determine a mission
Nelson-Kavajecz’s vision was simple—to help kids experience the arts. While she could often absorb a needy kid or two into classes without charging tuition, she couldn’t pay for all the shoes, dance clothes, costumes, and team travel expenses that were stymieing parents in her working-class community. Equally important to Nelson-Kavajecz was that any young artist—from dance students to high school music students to Junior Miss contestants—could apply for a Sterling Silver Booster Club scholarship.
In her first years of business, Harts had partnered with nonprofits such as the YMCA and the Girls’ Club of Portsmouth (now Girls’ Inc.) by, for example, agreeing to teach a baton twirling class in exchange for dance program space. She also taught dance in afterschool programs funded by grants received by other arts-based groups. Through it all, she “learned what being a nonprofit can do for you,” in terms of extending the reach of her school’s deeply rooted aims; Harts wanted her nonprofit to partner even more closely with other community nonprofits and work together to bring the arts to underserved children.
Boiling that vision down into an official mission statement—a sentence or two that tells the world who the nonprofit is and what it does—can be tricky. Harts’ mission statement is this: “To elevate, educate, and empower our youth through encouraging them to enhance their community by establishing productive lives through their own efforts.”
Each nonprofit functions according to an established set of bylaws. These bylaws determine how often the board must meet, what constitutes a quorum, rules of membership (how to add or dismiss a member), the system for annual nomination and election of officers, and other operational details. The bylaws also can spell out the responsibilities, salary, and other details of the artistic/executive director position or other paid positions within the nonprofit. Hall’s bylaws state that she is the executive director indefinitely and can be removed only because of gross mismanagement.
While bylaws can cover a lot or a little and are unique to each nonprofit, they must meet certain legal and legislative requirements. Nelson-Kavajecz says she had to tweak her drafts of the Booster Club’s bylaws several times to make them comply with Wisconsin state laws.
File the application
Nonprofit status is granted to organizations that file the necessary paperwork with both the federal (visit irs.gov/Filing/Charities-&-Non-Profits) and state government. (For details on each state’s requirements, visit usa.gov/Business/Nonprofit-State.shtml). Generally, this also includes filing Articles of Incorporation, applying for a federal employer identification number, and filing for state and local exemptions from various taxes such as sales tax. Along with the IRS application fee (which can range from $300 to $750), each state has its own set of application fees.
Filing can be tedious, time consuming, and frustrating. “It’s a long, bumpy process to learn it all,” says Hall, who is now glad she changed her mind about opening her studio in 2008 as a nonprofit, and instead concentrated solely for the first two years on getting her business up and running. (The school has been a nonprofit since 2010.) “There’s so much that goes into a nonprofit. We took our time and considered the application thoroughly to make sure we had everything correct.”
It’s also not something that should be—or could be—tackled alone. Although many companies and organizations hire a lawyer and/or accountant to see them through the process, these three studio owners reached out to friends, acquaintances, and even parents for help and advice.
One of Hall’s adult tap students who had just finished law school and needed to gain experience working with nonprofits lent a hand. Nelson-Kavajecz reached out to students’ parents or community members with legal or nonprofit experience, and her own accountant “offered a ton of advice,” while Harts’ questions were answered by the IRS agent handling her application, as well as by a friend who had gone through the process for her daycare center.
Establish a board
Unlike private businesses, nonprofits are overseen by a board of directors. (Minimum size requirements vary from state to state.) Board members are not employees; instead, they should be individuals from the community who “know your purpose,” Harts says. While not involved in day-to-day operations, they should have some useful skills in areas such as fundraising, marketing, or finance that could help the nonprofit pursue its goals.
Boards must have meetings on a regular basis and keep minutes, and compile an annual financial report for the IRS. Most important, Harts says, boards have the power to remove or “vote out” the studio’s artistic director—even if the director is also the founder, like herself.
Putting together a board involves far more than just calling up a few friends, Hall says. “It was really hard. Basically you are asking people to volunteer their time, and they have to be interested in dance and want to help you with your vision,” she says.
Hall’s board currently seats 11 people, a recent increase from nine, and includes several of her adult tap students. Two members are involved with writing grants, while others help with facility repairs or marketing. Her studio moved recently, and board members with real estate experience helped with lease negotiations, she says.
The Sterling Silver Booster Club’s board has four officers elected annually plus additional members—mostly parents, parents of former students, or adult alumni. Board meetings are open and are always well attended by other parents and supporters, who are encouraged to participate in all discussions. While she attends meetings to offer advice or answer questions, Nelson-Kavajecz says she leaves all decisions about fundraisers, as well as the distribution of scholarships, to the board. That autonomy, she believes, protects her from any claims of favoritism, and it also ensures an active, engaged board.
Harts’ board is made up of her husband as vice president, her studio accountant as treasurer, and an administrator with extensive experience in nonprofits as her secretary. She considers them an invaluable support system that generates ideas for fund-raising, represents the studio in the greater community, and “pushes me to grow” the nonprofit according to its mission statement.
Worth the effort
Harts received her nonprofit status in 1999, only to discontinue it in 2004 when she closed her studio due to an injury. The school reopened in 2007 in a larger facility, and Harts wanted to expand its offerings to include music, art, and theater. So she applied for reinstatement, which is pending. “Working in your community and giving back to your community is the most rewarding part of being a 501(c)(3),” she says.
Nelson-Kavajecz believes the Booster Club’s mission as a community-wide nonprofit is vital to its success. Some of the volunteer mothers and fathers from her dance studio who work the hardest to raise funds never ask for a dime, and former scholarship recipients have returned as young adults to express their thanks.
“It’s very positive and very group-based,” Nelson-Kavajecz says. “Everybody who is part of this nonprofit is looking out for the entire group, and the financial stability of the entire group, and not just with an interest in their own child.”
Hall never realized how involved the approval process was going to be, but she says she’s glad she took the time and made the effort. “People like the fact that you care about the community and want to help people,” she says. “I’ve had a few people come to the studio specifically because, they said, ‘I saw you were a nonprofit and I really like that.’ ”
A prolonged economic downturn, reduced arts funding, and dwindling grant allotments have painted a bleak picture for artistic nonprofits, so several Chicago-area female choreographers have decided to apply their onstage creative spirit to their business offstage, reports Crain’s Chicago Business.
The heads of four local dance companies—Dance COLEctive, Hedwig Dances, Same Planet/Different World Dance Theatre, and Zephyr Dance—formed FlySpace in 2012, an umbrella organization through which they share resources and administrative duties for marketing and audience-building to “gain economies of scale,” said Michelle Kranicke, artistic director of Zephyr.
With FlySpace, they are eschewing competition in favor of joining forces. “Through increased audiences, we’ll have more income, more financial resources, and be able to raise the collective visibility of our individual companies and hopefully the visibility for contemporary dance in general in Chicago,” she said.
It’s an unusual arrangement. Nonprofits do team up to share grant writers or executive directors, but FlySpace didn’t want to have a person forced to split her energy four ways. The women said that in their research, they have not found other groups teaming up in this way.
The women in the consortium say sharing business resources while retaining individual creativity is a smart way to stay afloat and, like it or not, is the future for artistic nonprofits.
To read the full story, visit http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130214/NEWS07/130219903/nonprofit-dance-companies-join-forces.
At The Center for Contemporary Dance, education involves community
By Eliza Randolph
The Center for Contemporary Dance in Winter Park, Florida, might qualify as a mini dance utopia. CCD houses an open training program for all ages and a pre-professional program, as well as four independent dance companies. A nonprofit known for its diversity and inclusive atmosphere, it was founded in 2001 in Washington, DC, and incorporated in Florida in 2004 by executive director Craig Johnson and artistic director Dario Moore. They moved from DC to Florida in part because they felt the area needed greater access to the arts. And, clearly, because they needed a challenge.
Johnson, an arts administrator, and Moore, a teacher, performer, and choreographer, had both earned undergraduate degrees from Rollins College and then left Florida to pursue careers. Moore, with a BA in theater and dance, earned a master’s in dance education from American University; Johnson, with a bachelor’s in biology/pre-med, attended medical school at Columbia University for several years before following a calling to the arts. He served as development director for a theater company in New Jersey and then as creative director for U-Turn Dance Company, with Moore, in DC. Then family ties and the belief that central Florida could benefit from their work called them back to the South.
Aside from Orlando Ballet, they note, not much dance was happening in central Florida, but that didn’t faze them. “We knew what we were up against,” says Johnson, “and we were aware enough to know that the learning curve involved raising community awareness and educating our constituents about what contemporary dance even was. People kept referring to it as ‘interpretive.’ ” On the CCD website, “contemporary dance” is acknowledged to be a catchall term referring to “anything from the fusion of classical dance forms to a modern interpretation of world dance.”
CCD took a proactive approach, says Johnson. “We built into our programming a series of in-house workshops that facilitated a more comprehensive understanding of contemporary dance.” The workshops took the form of performances, film presentations, and lecture-demonstrations. Eventually, he says, the strategy paid off, “and now people are eager to come through our doors.”
Instructor and dancer Jeré James, who has been with CCD since its beginning, says, “I have watched the progression of our audience going from 50 or 60 to 300 to 400.”
In addition to building audiences through education, Moore and Johnson challenged themselves to sidestep the usual dance studio model of classes and recitals. Instead, they created a center that fostered the growth of the dance field itself from the inside out by intertwining the educational and professional activities at the Center.
For its 287 students (as of last winter), including 20 on the pre-professional-track, CCD offers a wide range of ongoing classes in ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, tap, and African dance, as well as regular master classes in techniques ranging from hip-hop to classical Indian dance. Students of all ages can pay as they go rather than commit to a monthly tuition fee. The by-audition pre-professional program has two tracks, youth (ages 9 to 17) and adult (ages 18 to 25), which include training in arts management, production, and wellness/nutrition along with technique.
CCD does not stage recitals, but students have the opportunity to perform and/or choreograph through two concerts per year. Rehearsals take place outside of class time, says Johnson. The CCD website explains that students work with the resident ensembles “in areas of choreography, production management, artistic development and creative expression.”
The idea of housing resident artists is integral to Johnson and Moore’s concept for the school. It’s a way for developing choreographers and artistic directors “to more fully explore their craft through experimentation and actual production,” says Johnson. He says they look for “artists who challenge boundaries, explore interesting aspects of the human experience, and who are willing to grow and collaborate through the art of dance.” CCD provides rehearsal space, production opportunities, and business mentoring, he says, all of which provides the necessary stability for these artists “to become fully independent companies that keep contemporary dance flowing into the artistic landscape of central Florida.”
In return, says Johnson, resident artists teach and “provide opportunities for graduates of the pre-professional program to perform, as well as for higher-level pre-professionals to apprentice with the company.” And the resident artist program is part of CCD’s marketing strategy. Audiences know that the residents whose work they come to see are supported by CCD, and that in turn generates new interest in the school.
The result of this expansive approach—educating and creating both inside and outside the studio—is a student body that’s uniquely prepared for the multifaceted demands of the dance field. Says Johnson, “Resident artists help us provide pre-professionals with other important experiences, such as technical design, backstage support, guest management, and other non-performance aspects of the arts. All of this contributes to [developing] a well-rounded student capable of making a living in the arts.”
And there’s more. Students also learn about the “challenges associated with getting their work to the stage,” says Johnson. For the student concerts, he says, “they’re invited into fund-raising efforts. They’re taught how to engage people into believing in their work enough to actually support it. We believe that if we’re teaching them those concepts at age 12, 13, 14, they will become better idea generators than I am, sitting at this desk. We can start that process now for them so that by the time they’re 20, 30, 40, they should be masters at it.”
“We were aware enough to know that the learning curve involved raising community awareness and educating our constituents about what contemporary dance even was.” —CCD executive director Craig Johnson
Moore stresses the importance of familiarizing students with “the full cycle” of production, “in order to create this process for themselves. That’s important. If they learn that process here in dance, they can apply it to anything.”
Former student Cherri Thompson (now a dancer with Graham II, the second company of Martha Graham Dance Company) learned to appreciate this approach. “It’s funny,” she says with a laugh, “because at the time the responsibilities that you’re given don’t feel like something that you necessarily want to do. But later on you look at it as a very rich learning experience. I had to learn how to manage my time, work with other people, different personalities, learn how to do lighting, step in when somebody can’t. You realize it’s a bigger picture. You have to be able to do everything. I’ve watched Dario change lighting, stand on a ladder and fix things to make [a production] happen.”
Moore sees what they’re doing at CCD as “a unique educator’s challenge—to be holistic in how we’re training students here.” And what emerges from this holistic view is a center that embodies an expansive definition of contemporary dance as not just a particular dance style, but as an approach to the entire field.
For Reverend and Dr. Margo Blake-Tyler, a former student and now a teacher at CCD, “contemporary means being a well-rounded dancer who can do different techniques and understands what the current dance market is about, what the current and most popular dance styles are, and what it takes to break into the professional dance field.”
But of course, more specifically CCD offers technique classes labeled “contemporary.” The consensus among the CCD staff seems to be that it involves the best mix of dance styles needed to tell a particular story. Says James, “I believe that, from the 5-year-olds to the professionals, we tell a story with our movement. Our kids know the meaning behind [their movement]. We’re training dancers to become artists.”
Thompson mentions Katherine Dunham as an early pioneer of this idea of contemporary dance. As Thompson puts it, Dunham combined “several dance styles to create her own style, which was very contemporary and very American. What made her controversial was that some people didn’t see her style as one that was contemporary as much as just her take on ethnic and Caribbean dance styles. But she took her ballet training and researched dances from Africa, Haiti, and Latin American cultures and used it in her process. That process is in my opinion what makes the dance contemporary. It is ever evolving and always tells a story or shows a perspective.”
The perspective of CCD is one of true and vibrant diversity. Johnson says he and Moore pride themselves “on having created, I would say, one of the most diverse studio spaces here in central Florida. Part of that is because we ensure that our employees are diverse. Like attracts like, and we’re very aware of that. We love that you could be sitting in our lobby and see an Asian person, a white person, a black person, a Latino person—a perfect blend of all these different colors and shapes and sizes. It’s an amazing experience.”
Johnson says that CCD recruits resident artists who are “as diverse as the world is, to make sure that the audiences that we’re recruiting to the center are also diverse. There’s a very large consciousness around programming with diversity in mind. It goes beyond race. We have people here with physical limitations.”
This diversity encourages a broad range of experience among the students. Blake-Tyler, who has danced her entire life (she is in her 50s) but came to CCD to take class after a long absence from dancing, appreciates the climate that creates. “Nobody judges you by your ability, by what you look like, your size, your height, your weight, your skin color,” she says. “And I really enjoy that because I felt like at my age I could take a dance class and nobody would laugh at me. I got nothing but encouragement.”
When she began teaching again, Blake-Tyler says, Johnson and Moore challenged her. “African was always easy for me to teach. But when they asked me to teach Dunham and jazz, I hadn’t done them in a while. [Teaching them] challenged me as a teacher, and it helped me to come back to myself as an artist.”
“That’s why our model here is successful,” says Moore. “Everyone who walks in that door feels us see them [as an individual].” The message sent, according to Moore, is: “Why are you here, let’s find out who you are, what you’re hoping to achieve here. And in your real life, use dance as a model for what you can do out in the real world and go achieve it, go do it.”
Financial aid and scholarship or work-exchange opportunities are there for those students who need them. “We’re very family oriented,” says James. “Dario is a big believer in the village raising the child. So we’ll carpool, pick the kids up if need be, [find] scholarship opportunities for the kids, like cleaning or being a teacher assistant, so they’re able to continue with their dance education.”
Despite the fact that CCD can offer a complete experience, from training to professional status, Johnson and Moore consciously try to avoid practices that feel insular or cliquish. “We’re not operating in studio circles that try to take ownership of and control their students,” says Johnson. “We encourage our students to study at other centers; we know that one place cannot give you everything you need as an artist. And if we’re going to expand dance here, or anywhere for that matter, we have to be inclusive and let students know that everything is possible beyond these walls.”
To that end, they help the pre-professional students apply to university dance programs and auditions. Over the past nine years, says Johnson, “94 percent of the more than 200 pre-professionals [trained at CCD] have gone on to enter a university dance program or professional dance company.”
Thompson is a perfect example of that success rate. “I really valued being given the room to grow, and being given the push to grow,” she says. “As a performer you have to always be learning. You can’t just become great and then stay at that level.” At times she felt constricted by the demands of the program, “but in actuality, that compression allowed me to go deeper into myself, figure out how I wanted to grow. And then do it.”
Lake Country Chiefs Cheer, a nonprofit organization, is currently taking registrations for its 2010 season.
Class begin August 11 and will be held from 6:10 to 7:10 p.m. Wednesdays at To The Pointe Performing Arts, 1115 Cottonwood Avenue, Hartland, Wisconsin.
For more information, or to access a registration form, contact To The Pointe at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 262-367-7177.
Pointe Snaps Ballet Accessories will donate $2 to Come Unity, a nonprofit group that digs freshwater wells in Africa, for every package of Rainbow No-Sews sold during July.
Rainbow No-Sews come in 10 colors and allow dancers to attach ribbons and elastic while personalizing the inside of their pointe shoes.
Tax-exempt status offers opportunities to students and benefits to communities
By Lisa Traiger
Nobody gets into teaching dance and running a dance studio solely for the money; there are dozens of less physically, intellectually, and interpersonally demanding professions to choose from. Ask any number of dance teachers and studio owners why they do it, and without pause they’ll say it was for love, not money. If, along the way, they earn a living and make a profit, that’s practically a bonus.
While most dance studios around the country operate as for-profit corporations, not unlike the local Starbucks or car dealership, some studio owners choose to incorporate as not-for-profit entities. That means the organization must fulfill a social purpose and benefit the community—in this case, by providing an education
In the United States, corporations—whether for profit or nonprofit—are overseen by each state, according to William Rattner, executive director of Lawyers for the Creative Arts (LCA) in Chicago. Each year Rattner’s organization helps hundreds of artists with legal issues that range from nonprofit incorporation to copyright advice, contract negotiations, and more.
“Setting up a not-for-profit corporation in any of the 50 states is very easy,” Rattner explains. “It can be done very cheaply, very simply.” But for most nonprofits, that’s only the first step. Being nonprofit does not make one tax exempt and eligible for deductible contributions and government grants. After incorporating as a nonprofit, one must then apply to the IRS for tax-exempt status, known as a 501(c)(3) for arts and other charitable organizations.
For tax exemption, says Rattner, “There’s a lengthy application form that goes into tremendous detail. You have to be certain about what you’re going to do and not do, and there’s a great deal that the IRS says you can’t do. They look at your governance, your purpose, how you operate, your board. It’s very complex and takes a long time to fill out and get it back from them. That’s the hard part.”
In many cities and states, organizations akin to LCA or Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts offer legal services on a sliding scale for artists and arts organizations, among them dance studios and companies. Some of those organizations might give advice on nonprofit incorporation and tax-exempt status; however, some businesses might be better off consulting a full-service lawyer with expertise in these areas. Budget size doesn’t affect nonprofit status: A nonprofit can be a small studio with a board of directors made up of parents and community members, or it can be a large independent or company-affiliated school with multiple locations, programs, and a board of directors with a national scope.
Big school, big budget
The Musical Theater Center (MTC) in Rockville, Maryland, serves about 1,800 students with classes in tap, jazz, hip-hop, ballet, voice, and acting. Executive director Rex Bickmore reports an annual budget of $1.3 million, 75 percent earned from tuition and ticket sales and 25 percent raised through grants from local government agencies, private foundations and corporations, and parents.
“We’ve never been able to meet the expenses” solely through tuition, explains Bickmore, a former dancer with The Joffrey Ballet and other companies and a one-time associate director of The Washington School of Ballet under its founder, Mary Day. He notes that the high cost of renting space in the Washington, DC, suburbs makes fund-raising essential: “Running as a nonprofit makes us eligible for funding and donations. If you’re not a nonprofit, your donors can’t deduct contributions they make to you. Also, if you’re going to receive funding from the county, as many organizations do here in Montgomery County [Maryland], you must be a 501(c)(3).”
MTC, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, didn’t go nonprofit until 1990. That switch has made a tremendous difference, says Bickmore. Among other pluses, donations enable MTC to offer about $15,000 annually in scholarships, according to Bickmore. Nonprofit status also allows the studio to offer a performing arts program that visits county public elementary schools on a regular basis.
Small school with a mission
“I believe that any child should have the opportunity to dance,” says Nela Niemann, artistic director of Blue Ridge Studio for the Performing Arts in Berryville, Virginia. “When I was growing up, especially the ballet classes were limited to the people who could afford it.” When she opened her studio, Niemann, mother of seven and the daughter of two teachers, vowed “not to turn down a student, regardless of ability to pay.”
But getting from her desire to serve her hometown community to a legal nonprofit entity was a challenge. “It’s a legal procedure that’s fairly complicated,” she says. “I [wanted] to go nonprofit to support the students and the scholarships. People are more likely to donate to organizations that are nonprofit.”
“Running as a nonprofit makes us eligible for funding and donations. If you’re not a nonprofit, your donors can’t deduct contributions . . .” —Rex Bickmore, The Musical Theater Center
A parent of one of Niemann’s students volunteered legal services to help the school owner apply for nonprofit and tax-exempt status. Although Blue Ridge Studio would be able to request grants, Berryville, about 60 miles west of Washington, DC, doesn’t have a town or county arts council that funds nonprofit arts organizations.
Niemann’s studio is a one-woman operation: She manages, administers, and teaches about 140 students with a few part-time teachers to help out. She knows she hasn’t taken full advantage of development opportunities through grant writing and other fund-raising activities and hopes to one day hire an administrator to help with fund-raising. “There are grants that are more easily accessible to nonprofits. That’s an area I have not tapped into in the way I would like to. I know that there are funds available to nonprofit organizations like mine, dedicated to the arts.”
But in the meantime, she continues to say yes to students who want to dance, even when increasing numbers of parents come to her about their own layoffs and financial troubles. Niemann says that in 2007–08 Blue Ridge gave away about $10,000 in full or partial scholarships to needy students, and for the 2008–09 season that nearly doubled to $19,895. That amounts to about 16 percent of Niemann’s operating budget.
“The scholarships are solely need based,” she says. “I don’t have a difficult procedure for getting a scholarship. I might have a child who can afford to take one class a week, but not two. Others might be on half or quarter scholarships. Parents will come to me privately and express interest in a scholarship. I find out what is comfortable for them to pay. It’s as simple as that. Do I get taken advantage of? I imagine sometimes I might, but I don’t think I get taken advantage of very much at all.” And often, once parents are more financially secure, they are able to pay back scholarships or donate to the studio.
Dancing the difference
Students don’t have to be religious to attend Celebration Street Christian School of the Performing Arts, but the studio’s practices reflect the religious faith of the owner, Laura Ruiz. She and a cadre of volunteer teachers, who receive classes and offsite training for free in exchange for their time, instruct about 110 students in Roseburg, Oregon. “We say we dance the difference. That difference in our studio is that we pray before each class. That’s about all. We don’t do a lot of preaching, and people come to us who never go to church, have no interest in going to church,” says Ruiz. “But they know that their kids will be well dressed, that the choreography will not be sleazy, and that they won’t be yelled at or treated harshly in any way.”
For Ruiz, a former Walt Disney World dancer, and the instructors at her 11-year-old studio, teaching by example and in a religiously inspired manner is more important than attracting hundreds of students or winning competitions. Her older students perform in the community and at local functions, churches, nursing homes, and rescue missions, but she never charges for their services.
“I wanted our dancers, our studio, to be low production in the sense that if somebody wanted us to dance in front of the store on their street, our event would be high quality, but we wouldn’t need tons of lighting, backdrops, and props,” Ruiz explains. “Anywhere, anytime, when we get the call, we go to dance. We take dance straight to the community. We don’t charge. Sometimes we take ‘love offerings’ [donations] and if someone offers, we don’t say no.”
Celebration Street became nonprofit about five years ago, but before that, for the studio’s first few years, Ruiz didn’t pay herself. She says that more than 50 percent of the studio’s income is from tuition, but at times she and her teachers chip in to cover additional costs of costumes or other necessities. “All of the money goes right back into the studio. If we have a need, we put it in the newsletter and say we have some dancers who are having problems, especially in this economy, or we need some costumes for the recital. People will come through and write checks. It’s amazing how giving people are.”
Ruiz doesn’t do a great deal of grant-proposal writing, but she does approach local businesses and community organizations and often has found them willing to donate money or services. She has also found, among other advantages for nonprofits, that the local school system will distribute marketing flyers for classes and performances for free, a service not available to for-profit studios.
With about 10 percent of her students on full or partial scholarship, she notes that she expects full participation and model behavior. “We do ask sometimes that they help clean the studio. Other times the scholarship is a gift. It depends on the child’s situation. We do require that they be in class. We ask that they follow the dress code and sometimes even that’s a challenge, so we help by buying shoes and tights.” Otherwise, the nearest dance store is 60 miles away.
“It’s been quite the sacrifice,” Ruiz admits, to keep Celebration Street stable in the declining economy, “but when you see the kids and their parents, it’s a sacrifice that’s worth it. Sometimes they come from other studios and just ran out of money. Here we will scrounge, sacrifice, write a letter, anything we can do—but we will find a way to get those students in so they can continue their dance education.”