Chicago Dancemakers Forum ensures that multi-layered support is available for Chicago choreographers at key moments in their artistic development. As the signature endeavor in that effort, the Lab Artist program has made $15,000 cash grants to four-to-six dancemakers annually for 16 years (increased to $20,000 for 2020). Grants are combined with mentorship throughout the research, development and performance of a newly choreographed work. The Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist program is the most significant, sustained source of support for individual choreographers working in Chicago, which has an open call process. The program fosters excellence and innovation while also building relationships among dancemakers, presenters, audiences and supporters.
Past Chicago Dancemakers Forum awardees are diverse in age, gender, race and discipline; they span tap, Bharatanatyam, Chicago Footwork, dance for the camera, voguing, contemporary, modern dance, and more. Former Lab Artists include: Victor Alexander of Ruth Page School of Dance and Civic Ballet, Carrie Hanson of The Seldoms, Daniel "BRAVEMONK" Haywood of BraveSoul Movement, Joshua L. Ishmon, Kevin Iega Jeff of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Ginger Krebs, Julia Antonick and Jonathan Meyer of Khecari, Pranita Nayar of Mandala South Asian Performing Arts, Jamal 'Litebulb' Oliver of The ERA Footwork Crew, Julia Rhoads of Lucky Plush Productions, Barak adé Soleil, and Jumaane Taylor. Many of the past Lab Artists have built national and international recognition since receiving support from Chicago Dancemakers Forum.
Chicago Dancemakers Forum provides artists with time and space for deepening their artistry through reflection, research and interaction . The impact of the grants continues well beyond the year of the award as the Forum works with local and national partners to design and execute programs, residencies, and other opportunities which support awardees beyond the Lab program in advancing their artistry and professional skills. Both the process and product influence future work and expand outward into the dance community.
The Greenhouse Program promotes artistic growth in emerging Chicago choreographers with financial support for the development of new work with mentorship from an established/mid-career artist. In July 2019, four dancemakers will be awarded $4,000 to support their creative process as they develop new work over the course of three months. To apply, an emerging dancemaker must have the committed involvement of a mentor. An additional $1,000 will be awarded to the mentor. Additional Greenhouse Program support includes: rehearsal space throughout the grant period, marketing on the Chicago Dancemakers Forum website, social media and e-newsletters during the grant period, and a group dialogue and response session with fellow Greenhouse artists and their mentors.
Isolation is one of the documented challenges that Chicago dancemakers face; in the absence of connection to a vibrant dance community, research revealed that choreographic talent “either atrophies or leaves town.” Chicago Dancemakers Forum addresses this concern not only through the Lab Artist Awards but also by convening diverse artists in public programs, such as workshops about contemporary dancemaking, proposal writing, financial literacy, and the relationship of artists to their city. Additionally, Chicago Dancemakers Forum stimulates dialogue and circulates resources for dancemakers on social media.
The New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) and the Chicago Dancemakers Forum are partnering in 2015-17 to produce the Regional Dance Development Initiative (RDDI) Chicago with funding from The Reva and David Logan Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Chicago Park District, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. RDDI Chicago is designed to support professional development for Chicago-based dance makers, build connections that will nourish dance artists, and develop the overall capacity and infrastructure of the Chicago dance community.
RDDI is designed to maximize local and regional support for dance artists by catalyzing existing resources and by redefining the relationship between artist, presenter, and community. RDDI focuses on increasing the capacity of dance artists by strengthening the articulation of work, its inspirations and processes, and by developing presenter relationships and new markets.
The first pilot project of the RDDI took place in Seattle in August of 2004. Additional regional projects have taken place in the San Francisco Bay area; Portland, Oregon; New England; and Minnesota. Each RDDI Lab is developed for the unique needs of the nearby dance community through partnerships with regional dance leaders.
NIC Kay performing outside Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative during the Elevate Chicago Dance festival in October 2017.