Its methods: “People today want to be transported in a short space of time, and so we have to present our audiences with something that will instantly move them,” says Ashley Wheater, the Joffrey’s artistic director. “We have to speak to our younger audience by showing them their contemporaries onstage and helping them identify with the story, which was one of our focuses with our recent production of Romeo & Juliet.” Engaging a younger audience builds an important patron base for the future while expanding appreciation for dance.
The Joffrey operates a professional dance academy, which provides scholarships to underserved children and teens. The academy offers a pre-professional program, hosts open classes for the public, and runs the Lemonis Bridge Residency Program, which introduces first and second graders in local public schools to the basic elements of classical ballet.
“To remain a world-class company, we need to nurture and retain excellent talent from all backgrounds,” says Wheater. “The company now is an amazing tapestry of African American, Asian, Latino, and international dancers, and we’re committed to finding the financial support to ensure that children from all walks of life can become professional dancers.”
Its impact: The Joffrey’s community outreach efforts reach about 7,000 Chicago children each year, and its trainee program has matured. Nine current company members have come up through the academy. Half were able to do so because they had received financial support. The program’s impact grows as these company members contribute their time and expertise to teaching and choreographing for the Lemonis Bridge Residency Program.
This program and its community outreach activities teach self-expression, teamwork, and self-discipline. What’s more, says Wheater, “this exposure to art also has an impact on the child’s family, since many become more focused on nutrition and health.”
How the Satter Foundation has helped: The Satter Foundation has provided $401,000 in unrestricted grants from 2006 to 2013. The nature of these grants allows the Joffrey to apply the funds where it most needs them. It has used them to increase dancers’ compensation so the ballet can attract and retain high-quality dancers, and to provide opportunities for young, under-resourced people to dance, increasing diversity in the field. “Without unrestricted giving, we would not be able to accomplish all that we need to do,” says Wheater.
The foundation’s multiyear support is also vital to the organization. “It builds stability and allows us to plan respectful and impactful ways to use the resources,” says Wheater, who also points out how ongoing, unrestrictive funding allows the ballet to focus on bringing on new donors.
What’s next for the Joffrey Ballet: Wheater is developing more creative works for the company. In particular, he wants to bring more women choreographers and designers into the creative process. The Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation awarded the Joffrey a $500,000 matching grant to create a narrative work that will help expand its audience and funding base.