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New York Live Arts: A

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In spring 2010, Jean Davidson, Executive Director of Foundation for Dance Promotion, Inc. d/b/a the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (BTJ), leaned back in her chair in her Harlem office and looked at the financial models one more time. The numbers seemed to indicate that merging BTJ with Dance Theater Workshop (DTW) made sense, but this was uncharted territory. BTJ was primarily a dance performance company, and DTW was primarily a performance space presenting innovative programs. If BTJ went through with a full merger with DTW, it would be unprecedented. No mergers had occurred at this scale in New York’s dance world before. But other forms of partnership, which would be less risky, would likely yield smaller returns.

Davidson had begun the process of addressing several vital challenges at BTJ in April 2009. After over three years of fundraising and planning, she learned that BTJ would not be receiving new performance and rehearsal space in a city-owned complex on 125th Street. As a result of losing the space bid, BTJ lost $13 million in capital funding from the federal government and then $500 thousand from the city as a result of budget cuts due to the global economic downturn.

One of BTJ’s drivers for owning space was that studio rental costs amounted to nearly $100 thousand per fiscal year, and space was hard to find when needed. On the advice of a colleague, Davidson called Andrea Sholler, Executive Director of DTW, to discuss the options for a long-term lease at DTW. In the conversation, she learned of DTW's ongoing budget issues and financial struggles. With this knowledge, and with Sholler’s blessing, Davidson and her team submitted a proposal to EMC Arts (EMCArts) for Innovation Lab grant funding, to explore partnership options with DTW. Initial ideas ranged from a long-term rental agreement to a back office consolidation to a merger. Leaders of both organizations knew how important it was to make the right decision. Both organizations were beloved by artists and audiences, but the two were seen as very different. Davidson knew that any form of partnership would be closely watched by the press, by audiences, as well as by dancers and choreographers around the world. But with DTW facing large bond payments and BTJ without reliable rehearsal space, the stakes were too high not to explore an alliance. The question was, what form would it take?

Published Date: 30/04/2014

Suggested Citation: Emily Berger, Molly Gibbons, Katie Liberman, and Sharon Oster, "New York Live Arts: A," Yale SOM Case 14-013, April 30, 2014

Keywords: Dance, Women in Leadership