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NPN Announces 2018 Creation & Development Fund Awards

Posted: Thursday, June 28th, 2018 at 3:51 pm in News

NEW ORLEANS (June 29, 2018) – The National Performance Network (NPN) announces its 2018 Creation & Development Fund Awards totaling $305,000 in support of 14 new artistic works across disciplines, geographies and cultures. The selected artists reflect NPN’s commitments to equity and access through the arts.

The Creation & Development Fund supports the creation, development and mobility of new artistic work resulting in live experiential exchange between artists and community. The Fund provides a framework for relationships to develop over time among diverse artists, arts organizations and communities, with co-commissioners from across the country and Mexico.

Through the investment of commissioning funds from arts organizations and NPN direct subsidies, each project is eligible for multilevel support. Forty-two arts organizations from Kahului, HI to Birmingham, AL will host the projects as co-commissioners, which will result in at least 52 paid artist engagements over the next three years. NPN support will be leveraged to bring in $1.3 million dollars in additional support to these projects.

Projects range from a documentary performance challenging notions of borders and bordering; an evolving slow-motion party/installation/teach-in that maps a new approach to old questions about identity; a collaborative performance combining jazz an puppetry and developed in community with an Emerging Puppeteers of Color Program and the reenactment of a profound journey through the criminal justice system that includes music, dance and spoken word.

The Creation and Development Fund is made possible with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency) and Commissioners. To learn more about National Performance Network and its subsidy programs, visit  


2018 Creation & Development Fund Recipients

Abby Zbikowski/Abby Z and the New Utility – New York, NY – “Radioactive Practice”

Commissioners: New York Live Arts, New York, NY; Dance Place, Washington, DC; American Dance Festival, Durham, NC; Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, Columbus, OH

Radioactive Practice is a new work by Juried Bessie award winning Illinois-based choreographer Abby Zbikowski, commissioned by New York Live Arts and set to premiere during their 2019-20 Season with additional support from the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. Based on Zbikowski’s rigorous physical practice that processes diverse aesthetic and cultural information, this work pushes a team of ten dancers from the United States, Taiwan, Senegal and Canada past perceived physical limits and conventions of established dance forms.

Andresia “Real” Moseley – Auburndale, FL – “Five Black Women”

Commissioners: Art2Action, Inc., Tampa, FL; ASU Gammage, Tempe, AZ

Five Black Women is a one-woman show that reveals the lives distinctively different Black women characters and their struggles with identity, sexuality and religion. Through poetry, song and DJ mixes, it reveals more than just the stories of diverse black women, but the struggle to identify as a human in this complex world. It’s about the hood, the church, the club and the stage. What happens when we let go…and how do we find acceptance for who we really are? What happens when circumstances push you, what’s too far, and how do we find our way back?

Edisa Weeks / DELIRIOUS Dances – Brooklyn, NY – “THREE RITES: Life, Liberty, Happiness”

Commissioners: 651 ARTS, Brooklyn, NY; Mount Tremper Arts, Mount Tremper, NY; Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Brooklyn, NY

THREE RITES: Life, Liberty, Happiness involves three performance rituals (rites) that integrate movement, live music, text, video and art installations to examine what these rights mean; how the rights have changed (or not changed) since the forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence; and in the age of Citizen’s United, Black Lives Matter, NAFTA, the Patriot Act, DACA, and the longest war in American history, how and for whom are these rights protected and promoted, and how they manifest in the body. THREE RITES uses interdisciplinary performance to spark discussions about urgent issues in American society today.

Jumatatu Poe – Philadelphia, PA – “Let ‘Im Move You: This is a Formation”

Commissioners: Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia, PA; Abron Arts Center, New York, NY; BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Bronx, NY; Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston, ME; Dance Place, Washington, DC; Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH PICA, Portland, OR; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, IL

Let ‘im Move You: This is a Formation is a new dance work by Philadelphia-based choreographer jumatatu m. poe and Dallas-based J-Sette artist Jermone “Donte” Beacham that unites Black dancers of various genders addressing choreographic, emotional, and spiritual forms present within J-Sette and other Black queer dance vocabularies. With live-constructed music and media design, Formation confronts historic imaginations and limitations of art institutions centering white aesthetics, and outdoor spaces within predominantly Black neighborhoods.

KJ Sanchez – Austin, TX – “Matanza (The Killing)”

Commissioners: Fusebox Festival, Austin, TX; California Shakespeare Theater, Berkeley, CA

Matanza (The Killing) is a durational performance based on the New Mexican ritual of the Matanza, created by award-winning playwright and director KJ Sanchez. Mining Sanchez’s research into her family’s New Mexican ancestry and history, this 24-hour performance tells the story of the Spanish Crown granting 250,000 acres to thirty families (Sanchez’s ancestors) and a feud that broke out over the rights to the land, which tore the community and her family apart. Sanchez combines the matanza, a social ritual in Hispanic culture, with a personal performance about family, community, and land-rights, which features cooking, feasting, storytelling, and song.

Marike Splint – Los Angeles, CA – “On The Other Side”

Commissioners: Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA; Art and Design Research Incubator at Penn State, University Park, PA

On the Other Side is a new documentary performance created by Marike Splint, challenging notions of borders and bordering in our present era. The project questions and challenges our growing tendency to draw these territorial lines and borders. The US/Mexico border is a clear starting point, but the performance aims to unpack the act of bordering beyond current flashpoints.

Miguel Gutierrez – Brooklyn, NY – “This Bridge Called My Ass”

Commissioners: PICA, Portland, OR; Kelly Strayhorn Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA; The Chocolate Factory Theatre, Long Island City, NY; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston, ME; Walker Art Center; Minneapolis, MN

This Bridge Called My Ass is a new evening-length dance/performance by Miguel Gutierrez for a group of five Latinx performers, with Stephanie Acosta as dramaturg. Part slow-motion party, part evolving installation, part embodied seminar/teach-in taught by futuristic (Spanish speaking) survivalists, the piece looks at longstanding tensions between form and content to map a new, irreverent approach to old questions about what constitutes identity politics and the avant garde. How do experimental artists of color, specifically “brown” artists, navigate terrain that is dominated by legacies of predominantly white artists? What can “brown” do to complicate inherited ideas about identity and abstraction?

Morgan Thorson – Minneapolis, MN – “Public Love”       

Commissioners: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Kahului, HI

Public Love (PL) is a dance intervention redefining power through physical tenderness and the human need for touch—both attributes of a kind of love. Positioning the dancing body as the generative center, choreography is composed from the inside out—from the vital, intimate experience of moving, not from an exterior position of seeing. From this location, virtuosity is mediated on the ensembles’ terms, disrupting hierarchical modes of power within dance creation itself. Transforming as it is re-situated, PL offers a rhizomatic, tactile structure that churns in a choreography of affection—as queer alternatives to might and control.

Myra Su and Tatsu Aoki – Chicago, IL – “Fault Lines and Expanding Forms”           

Commissioners: Links Hall, Chicago, IL; Asian Improv aRts, San Francisco, IL

Links Hall and Asian Improv aRts (San Francisco) are co-commissioning a collaborative performance by world renowned Jazz musician Tatsu Aoki, and accomplished shadow puppet artist/Manual Cinema company member Myra Su. This work will be developed in community with the artists participating in our Emerging POC (puppeteers of color) Program and it will premier during the January 2019 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.

Paul S. Flores – San Francisco, CA – “We Have Iré”          

Commissioners: Pregones Theater/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, Bronx, NY; Miami Light Project, Miami, FL; GALA Hispanic Theatre, Washington, DC; MECA, Houston, TX; MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, San Jose, CA; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

A new multidisciplinary theater work by award-winning poet, performance artist and playwright Paul S. Flores, We Have Iré explores the lives of Afro-Cuban and Cuban-American transnational artists living in the United States, and their influence on and experience with American culture. Directed by Rosalba Rolón of Pregones Theater, with live music composition by Yosvany Terry and Dj Leydis, and choreography by Ramon Ramos Alayo, We Have Iré also looks at the challenges of being an immigrant artist and the triumph of establishing one’s voice in a new country.

RMwase Cultural Projects – New Orleans, LA – “VESSELS”

Commissioners: Junebug Productions, New Orleans, LA; Annenberg Center for the Arts, Philadelphia, PA

VESSELS is a seven-woman harmonic meditation on the transcendental possibilities of song during the Middle Passage. Experienced within an interactive and acoustically rich sculptural environment that invokes those infamous ships, this interdisciplinary ritual performance explores singing as a survival tool and asks, “What does freedom sound like in a space of confinement?” VESSELS will premier in 2018 on a floating barge in New Orleans and then tour to East Coast port cities that were active during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Roberta Uno and Dahlak Brathwaite – San Francisco, CA – “Try/Step/Trip”

Commissioners: Youth Speaks, Inc., San Francisco, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, IL; Miami Light Project, Miami, FL; Center for New Performance, CALARTS, Valencia, CA; Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Try/Step/Trip is a dramatic reenactment of a profound journey through the criminal justice system. Through spoken word, live music, dance and character monologues, the devised work will chronicle the process of the playwright’s own criminalization along with his struggle to be vindicated in the eyes of the law and society. The piece works through the personal shame of criminal stigmatization to examine the factors – both internal and external – that has misplaced him and the black male body in what appears as a cultural rite of passage.

Rosy Simas – Minneapolis, MN – “Weave”

Commissioners: Dance Place, Washington, DC; Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Kahului, HI; Alabama Dance Council, Birmingham, AL PA’I Arts & Culture Center, Honolulu, HI

Native choreographer Rosy Simas (Seneca) creates Weave, a dance project drawn from the interwoven and interdependent nature of our world. In Weave, individual and embodied stories are the vibrant threads that mesh in a performance woven of story, dance, moving image, and quadrophonic sound.

Unit Souzou – Portland, OR – “A Constant State of Otherness”

Commissioners: The Myrna Loy, Helena, MT; Caldera Arts, Sisters, OR; Dance Place, Washington, DC; Asian Arts Initiative, Philadelphia, PA

The Constant State of Otherness is a multi-layered performance and community engagement project exploring the isolation and displacement that comes from not having an easy sense of home. This project focuses on the conversational, narrative, and collaborative art of Taiko drumming to create artistic and social dialogs that will question, challenge and upheave the mainstream narrative of identity and belonging, especially within this current American landscape.

Photos (from top): 1) RMwase Cultural Projects, “Vessels Intensive;” photo by Melissa Cardona 2) Unit Souzou, Promotional Photo; photo by Yuen Design. 

Present at our 2018 Annual Conference!

Posted: Thursday, May 3rd, 2018 at 11:52 am in Events

Join your colleagues at the National Performance Network & Visual Artists Network Annual Conference in Pittsburgh on December 13-16, 2018!

The Annual Conference brings together 350+ artists, arts leaders, funders, policy makers, community organizers, and educators to explore building a more just and equitable world through the arts. All are welcome at the conference, and newbies and veterans alike are encouraged to submit session proposals! Deadline for submissions is June 8, 2018.

In alignment with NPN/VAN’s commitment to creating an arts sector rooted in justice, we are committed to ensuring a space that is free of racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, misogyny, classism, or other bias. We also encourage freedom of expression and we aim to create a brave, generative space. Our expectation is that all conference sessions and participants honor these ethics.

NPN/VAN is committed to fostering a peer-to-peer learning environment that challenges conventional practices and encourages discussion and exchange. The conference offers a mix of nuts-and-bolts sessions, conversations that examine our work through a lens of equity and justice, and opportunities for artists, presenters, funders, and others to be in community together as thought partners. (See 2017 Conference Schedule for examples from our most recent conference.)

The Content Committee encourages sessions that:

  • Include participants who represent historically marginalized people and communities
  • Include artists (we are happy to provide recommendations of artists who will be attending)
  • Include participants from the local community (we are happy to provide recommendations of Pittsburgh participants)
  • Stimulate discussion and debate, challenge conventional thinking, and offer different points of view
  • Showcase current or emerging trends and creative responses to challenges or opportunities facing artists and artist-centered organizations

Idea Forums
Idea Forum sessions are 45, 60, or 90 minutes: 45- or 60-minute sessions may have up to two presenters; 90-minute sessions may have up to four presenters, including the moderator. Except in rare circumstances, we will not include the same speaker in more than one session per year; please consider this when proposing speakers. Reach out to NPN/VAN staff if you would like speaker recommendations.

In addition to traditional panel formats, please consider the following options or propose your own.

  • Roundtable: All attendees participate in a group discussion.
  • Long Table: Designated participants start by sitting at a long table surrounded by audience; discussion participants change as people join and leave the table.
  • Snowball: Session presenters set context for discussion; audience continues discussion in pairs, then in groups of 4, groups of 8, and so on.
  • Point of View: Two presenters offer distinct case studies or models for how they addressed a specific challenge.

Peer-to-Peer Workshops 
Peer-to-Peer workshops are organized by artists for artists — from career hacks, to professional development, to work-life balance, to hands-on creative activities. Workshops are up to 2 hours long and can include one or more artist organizers.

Financial Policy
A small honorarium is available for practicing artists (not represented by an institution) who are presenting. We are not able to provide additional travel support or honoraria for those organizing or participating in conference sessions. For session participants who are not planning to attend the conference otherwise, we provide a one-day complimentary registration the day of the participants’ session.

How to Propose a Session

  1. Read the guidelines.  Read the guidelines. Please email no later than Monday, June 4 if you have questions about submitting a proposal.
  2. Submit a completed proposal webform no later than end of day Friday, June 8
  3. A Content Committee consisting of NPN/VAN Board Members, Partners, Artists, and Staff will review proposals, and may provide additional suggestions.
  4. Organizers of selected sessions will be notified by the end of June.
  5. Final session descriptions and confirmed speakers are due from organizers in mid-July.

Click here to propose an Idea Forum session

Click here to propose a Peer-to-Peer session

Download a PDF of the guidelines here

16 Partner organizations receive NEA funding

Posted: Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 at 1:27 pm in News

NPN/VAN celebrates 16 Partner organizations awarded NEA funding in the first round of FY18 grants to organizations. The grants ($480,000 in total!) were awarded in artist communities, dance, museums, music, presenting/multidisciplinary arts, theater and visual arts. Read NEA’s press release for more information. 

Please join us in congratulating the following organizations: 

  • On the Boards (Seattle, WA) – $30,000 to support dance presentations, residencies, and developmental activities for choreographers
  • President and Trustees of Bates College (Lewiston, ME) – $40,000 to support the Bates Dance Festival
  • The Yard (Chilmark, MA) – $30,000 to support contemporary dance performances and artist residencies
  • Outpost Productions (Albuquerque, NM) $25,000 to support musical performances, educational and related audience engagement activities at the New Mexico Jazz Festival
  • City of Dallas, Texas (on behalf of South Dallas Cultural Center) – $10,000 to support the creation and presentation of multidisciplinary works by artists of African descent
  • Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans, LA) – $40,000 to support programming about women artists of color from the 20th century
  • Fusebox (Austin, TX) – $50,000 to support selected presentations at the Fusebox Festival
  • Myrna Loy Center (Helena, MT) –  $25,000 to support a series of guest artist residencies
  • Junebug Productions (New Orleans, LA) – $35,000 to support a series of multidisciplinary arts performances and exhibitions
  • Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (Portland, OR) – $40,000 to support the Time-Based Art Festival
  • Pregones Theater (Bronx, NY) – $20,000 to support the development of “Tito & the Cement Pagoda,” a new play with live music developed by Jorge B. Merced and Desmar Guevara, and to conduct related outreach activities
  • Skirball Cultural Center (Los Angeles, CA) – $20,000 to support a Family Puppet Festival
  • Women & Their Work (Austin, TX) $25,000 to support a series of solo exhibitions with a focus on emerging and mid-career women artists of Texas
  • Real Art Ways (Hartford, CT) $20,000 to support an exhibition series featuring the work of emerging artists



Revolution & Reflection: Performing Americas Program in Mexico

Posted: Thursday, January 25th, 2018 at 3:55 pm in International Program Reflections

Our International Program asks the question “What does justice mean in a global context?” This framework commits us to better understanding how our work upholds or subverts power structures, questioning assumptions about race and equity across borders, and challenging ourselves to ensure all our programs are rooted in justice. Eleven NPN/VAN delegates participated in the Performing Americas Program’s recent trip to Guadalajara and Guanajuato, Mexico, meeting with funders, cultural organizers, curators, and artists, as well as seeing work at Festival Internacional Cervantino.

This year’s festival theme was revolution, examining political and personal transformations and the outcomes and process of change. The Mexican, Argentine, French, and Russian revolutions were represented throughout the festival program, through humor, rage, shame, sorrow, triumph, and hope, offering complexity rather than absolutism. Never far from view was the image of the U.S. as colonizer, ideologue, or instigator. The festival setting itself raises critical questions of access and resources – Who gets to tell the stories? What histories are left out? And, particularly in the context of the Americas, where are the Indigenous voices?

We approach this work not in a vacuum but in the complexity of our own time, to respond with support to Latinx communities in the U.S., to resist nationalism and build community across borders, and to grow the seeds of revolution needed to transform our work for justice. Our delegates’ writings about the trip state this even more clearly, in reflections both personal and professional. Documenting this trip is just one demonstration of our intent to grow the International Program beyond the immediate groups of traveling delegates, in order to share, inform, and engage throughout the NPN/VAN network as a community of learning and activism, whether working locally, nationally, or globally.

Thank you to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and APAP’s Cultural Exchange Fund for supporting this work!

EDGAR MIRAMONTES, Associate Director, REDCAT (Los Angeles)

Guanajuato – the vibrant colonial city in the mountains where houses of every color appear to parade down the hills – was the setting of encounters with colleagues, artists, art, and conversation as part of the Festival Internacional Cervantino. It was also where the delegates engaged in re-imagining NPN’s Performing Americas Program’s important role on the international platform. The conversation surfaced several critical ideas, including the dwindling funding available for this and other international programs; the importance of equity and justice as guiding principles for this work; as well as the question of how this program can support the multiplicity that is NPN, given that few organizations within the network have participated in PAP as delegates. We unanimously agreed the program is vital, for a variety of reasons. For REDCAT, NPN has historically facilitated and allowed for international exchange to happen with artists from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, and NPN’s role has been essential for our international work.

As an individual and a new U.S. citizen, the issue from our conversations most present for me is the importance of PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO MOVE. Given the alarming times we’re experiencing in the U.S., this value is critical to preserve and protect now more than ever. The movement of artists and colleagues facilitates many kinds of exchange. But disparities clearly exist: who has the right to move and why? In my geographic immediacy, the border between Mexico and the U.S. is further changing, while contractors build prototypes for border walls. As a presenter and an immigrant from Mexico, I question the importance of what I do, especially in this moment. What I keep coming up with is a call to resist, subvert policy, and fervently continue the work REDCAT has been championing: presenting international artists who challenge and enlighten our current state, and cross borders in their collaborations; and building stronger international relationships with other presenters, colleagues, and communities. That is my form of protest — one of many. Thank you NPN and the Performing Americas Program for facilitating this exchange.

ESTEVAN AZCONA, presenter, scholar, and educator (Houston, TX)

Mexico holds a constant point of attention in the U.S. public sphere, largely due to issues of immigration but also as a target in our now poisonous public politics. For the arts communities of the U.S., support for Mexican artists is an apt strategy to maintain and further explore the Mexico-U.S. relationship to better understand the political dynamics currently taking so much of our headspace. But, as we learned in our conversations with Mexican artists, the relationship is much more elemental. For generations, there has been a northward movement of Mexicans into the U.S. to the point that the vast majority of Mexican families have cross-border family relationships. (I also heard similar stories from people I met in Seoul, South Korea, during an NPN Asia Exchange trip in 2015.)

How do we think through the complex web of interests that further the impact of residencies and presenting programs with artists from Mexico? As arts presenters, we have the opportunity to explore with artists not only contemporary public discourse, but also the embedded histories that have formed regions, cities, and communities along the border and deep within both countries. While the geopolitical boundaries and limits of movement are being reinforced by the state, the boundaries of the lived experience of Mexicans broke down a generation ago. It’s time to see how artists and communities on both sides of the border are exploiting it.

SARAH GREENBAUM, Artistic & Community Program Manager, Dance Place (Washington, DC)

On challenging assumptions

I pull a folded schedule from my pocket as I pile into a cab in front of the Hotel Gran Plaza along with other delegates traveling with the National Performance Network’s Performing Americas Project. Quickly, my eyes drift from the day’s activities at the Festival Internacional Cervantino to the delicious hills of Guanajuato, Mexico, with innumerable, brightly colored houses nestled in jagged rows. We speed through the massive, looming tunnels under the city center and emerge in front of the Museo Casa Diego Rivera, paying five pesos each to explore the renowned artist’s preserved birthplace. A square staircase through the center of the house takes us to a third floor lecture hall with chairs facing Mexican writer Estela Leñero, who waits to speak to us about the creative process of the play Light Defeat, the Anarchist Revolution of the Magón Flowers.

I do not speak Spanish and have never traveled to a place where English is not the primary language. As a person who sees a great deal of performance – primarily dance – I was confident I could navigate on this trip to a point of understanding through performative context clues like physicality, sound, and costume. But I was worried how I would fare in this lecture without these clues to lean on. I was also acutely aware of my own travel fatigue, and dreaded nodding off disrespectfully in the cozy space.

As Leñero begins to speak, my anxiety evaporates. Her communication style emphasizes physical cues I recognize, like placing her hand on the table in front of her, lowering her eyelids, raising her shoulders up to her ears and releasing them with a deep exhale. By following these cues and picking up a word here and there – comunista, anarquista, familia nuclear – and by tracking the pace and emphasis of her speaking patterns, I get a sense of the lecture’s themes: how political leanings arise based on the family one comes from, how these different ideologies influenced and were influenced by the Mexican Revolution, and how they continue to affect Mexican politics today.

The lecture transitions to a Q&A and I recognize a universal moment of communication (or lack thereof) when a woman in the audience speaks with the stubborn passion of someone whose opinion will not be swayed. I cannot understand her exact meaning but her body language and tone are familiar, as I have attended other Q&A sessions where a participant takes the opportunity to belittle the presenter and state their own feelings as immovable facts. When the woman pauses, Leñero takes a breath to respond; the woman cuts her off before she can begin. At another pause Leñero interjects, and the woman speaks over her until Leñero concedes and allows the berating to continue. It is uncomfortable, but the Q&A pushes forward after the woman has her say.

The event concludes, we applaud, and I make my way out to the lecture space’s narrow balcony overlooking a breathtaking spread of Guanajuato’s streets, hills, and houses. I reflect on how thoroughly Leñero’s lecture captivated me, contrary to my expectations. I thought I might be hopelessly lost, but I enjoyed the challenge of piecing together meaning from context clues in Leñero’s engaging presentation.

I ask a fellow PAP traveler what the woman who responded with such aggressive passion during the Q&A was speaking about. It turns out she lost someone close to her due to political conflict and didn’t agree with Leñero’s presentation as it related directly to her situation. Grateful to have greater context for the woman’s commentary, my frustration towards her aggressive tone melts as I learn about the difficult history she has lived.

My shift in perspective on the woman’s reaction, as well as my positive overall experience at the lecture, reminds me to think deeply about the importance of regularly challenging my own assumptions as an arts manager and curator. In a social and political climate that is constantly evolving and progressing I must be comfortable with (and adept at) having my assumptions ripped from under my feet and responding quickly and proficiently.

This situation also pushes me to ask whether my own institution, and other presenting organizations in the U.S., do enough to challenge the assumptions of our patrons and to support artists who do this important work. Do we intentionally make space for work that has the capacity to help people see things in a new way, and do we foster engaged conversation around subjects that need to be interrogated? I admire the Festival Internacional Cervantino for including programming like Leñero’s lecture, which educates and sparks important conversation on sensitive, politically relevant subjects.

Over the course of the trip, my assumptions and expectations continue to be challenged and expanded. Throughout, I am grateful to be surrounded by fellow curators and presenters who help me understand and process the works we see, as well as the cultural differences we encounter. Going forward, I know I can reach out to them to continue conversations we began on this trip and to partner in new ways on future projects that push our audiences and ourselves to challenge assumptions and spark meaningful dialogue around societally relevant subjects.

ANDREW FREIRE, Exhibition & Operations Manager, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions / LACE (Los Angeles)

Notes on Mateluna and safe houses

I participated in this trip as both an artist and an organizer within art organizations (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and Los Angeles Contemporary Archive), looking for opportunities to learn from practices that are challenging, difficult, and often marginalized. I want to examine how artists are making work and understand the structures, strategies, and models of support imagined by ambitious and talented individuals at home and abroad. In the context of the partnerships we are building during this political climate, how can we learn from other platforms, such as those rooted in social justice or moral leadership? How do we keep each other healthy — as creative individuals and collective efforts — during difficult times?

While watching Guillermo Calderón’s Mateluna, I felt Teatro Santiago A Mil’s collective urgency, frailty, and scattered humor in comprehending the political circumstances surrounding the accusations and sentencing of their comrade to prison. How does one take care of this history and make sense of this type of trauma? The group powerfully conveyed their energy through an overall rapid delivery of sometimes indecipherable language (to my pocho-Spanish abilities at least!) and conflation of past, present, and imagined scenarios. I found myself continually catching up with their memories and reconstructions of spaces, often arriving, haphazardly, at these proposed, nondescript, safe houses. In this treatment I became more aware of the bare minimum setting of the theater as a secret place where we were all challenged to make sense of this traumatic series of events. I remember audience members laughing when the narrator would casually prefigure scenes by mentioning their location at safe houses. I can’t pinpoint what this collective laughter indicated; perhaps it made it easier for the audience to absorb surreal, dark, sometimes absurd events (when the group fights over whose turn it is to excrete into the home-made bomb, for instance). This process of fragmentation and messiness felt all the more necessary to challenge the established narrative.

It was also important to follow how transparently the characters operated in producing the scenes. As viewers we witness characters create music, propose ideas for new plays, project testimonial videos, and reflect on their own images. At one point characters stand in front of projected images of themselves and summarize what had been said in previous video recordings advocating justice for Mateluna. Some characters dictated their recorded messages verbatim with similar affect, while others were brief and seemingly exhausted in front of their own projections. Despite each individual’s intimate accountability to their own past actions in these moments, what I most strongly identified was a group dynamic. Their presentations became something not merely rehearsed, but a repetitive effort to communicate urgent ideas and expose precarious truths. In this way we glimpse what is truly at stake here – not merely a performance, but the very real political and social repercussions for those involved and the viewers newly implicated.

DEBRA GALLEGOS, Executive Associate, Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center (Denver, CO)

NPN/VAN’s International Program is based on core values of partnership, equity, and leadership development, and rooted in the belief that engagement with others outside our boundaries – whether political, geographic, national, aesthetic, or otherwise – is critical to building our empathy for others, our understanding of ourselves, and a more just world. The purpose of our trip is to re-establish relationships and forge new ones with artists and arts organizations in Mexico, and we’re especially excited about talking with artists and share our visions of social justice.

In Guadalajara we met with Diego Escobar, Secretary of Culture for the State of Jalisco. Although Mexico’s central government has cut arts funding recently and changed the process for artist support, Mexico (and the State of Jalisco in particular) is far ahead of the U.S. and Colorado in their financial support of artists and the arts. Public arts funding continues to be important because the community values and demands it, and the Ministry of Culture provides grants directly to artists in various disciplines, including dance, theatre, visual arts, music, and writing. As a result, there is a thriving contemporary and traditional art scene in Guadalajara. One of Guadalajara’s most noted theatre companies is Teatro Luna [link to: http://www.]. The company was established in 2001 and remains stubbornly independent. Their creative puppetry and unique and experimental performances have made them an established part of the Guadalajara theatre community.

Later in the day we visited the Instituto Cultural Cabanas and the Palacio del Gobierno where, in awe, we viewed the work of Jose Clemente Orozco. The murals that adorn these two building are truly magnificent, and provides the world with his unique view of Mexico’s history, wars, foreign intervention, and more.

As has been my experience in my past visits to Guadalajara, I continue to be moved by the brilliance and joy I feel when I visit. The City and the State of Jalisco have such historical significance and relevance to today’s world. From Orozco’s murals to other work from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, I see that Mexico was a leading voice for social justice. Their artists and intellectuals moved discussions forward and started the conversations necessary to make changes in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Our explorations of Guadalajara, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, and everything in between were the perfect time to discuss among artists and colleagues the importance of justice from a global perspective, as well as between the U.S. and Mexico specifically. We hope that our work will spur further discussions and a re-emergence of a revolutionary spirit among artists.

Deborah’s complete travel diary from the trip can be found here:

Thank you to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and APAP’s Cultural Exchange Fund for their generous support of the Performing Americas Program.

The travel team for Performing Americas Program in Mexico (October 2017) included PAP delegates as well as individual travel fellows:

  • Estevan Azcona, presenter (Houston, TX) – PAP delegate
  • Ever Chavez, Fundarte (Miami, FL)
  • Yolanda Cesta Cursach, Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, IL)
  • Elizabeth Doud, NPN/VAN (Miami, FL, and Bahia, Brazil) – PAP coordinator
  • Andrew Freire, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Debra Gallegos, Su Teatro (Denver, CO) – PAP delegate
  • Edgar Miramontes, REDCAT (Los Angeles, CA) – PAP delegate
  • Sarah Greenbaum, Dance Place (Washington, DC)
  • Janera Solomon, Kelly Strayhorn Theater (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Caitlin Strokosch, NPN/VAN (New Orleans, LA)
  • Samuel Valdez, theater artist (San Diego, CA, and Tijuana, Mexico)

NPN/VAN Launches New Strategic Planning Process

Posted: Monday, October 16th, 2017 at 4:11 pm in News

Strategic Planning

At a recent Board of Directors meeting in Pittsburgh, NPN/VAN launched a new strategic planning process, led by the consulting team of Justin Laing and Ian David Moss. Laing and Moss were selected from a competitive pool of consultants who responded to our strategic plan RFP and together they bring a diverse set of experiences and skills. Their strategic planning philosophy rests on three pillars: the invitation to explore, reflect, try, fail, and succeed offered by iterative planning; the rigorous understanding of causes and effects generated through a theory of change; and the integration of these ideas with a racial and cultural equity lens.

NPN/VAN is in a time of change, and through this planning process we are reimagining the organization – its mission, vision, and core values – and embracing the opportunity for transformation. The planning process also includes two parallel projects, to ensure a holistic engagement with the history, operations, and systems that make up NPN/VAN: the Knowledge Building Initiative, led by Paul Bonin Rodriguez; and a year-long consultancy on financial sustainability with the Nonprofit Finance Fund. We are grateful for generous support from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for our strategic planning process and consultancy with Laing and Moss; to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for our work with Nonprofit Finance Fund; and to the National Endowment for the Arts for the Knowledge Building Initiative.

“The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is a long-time supporter of NPN/VAN’s vital work, and we are pleased to partner with them as they write their next chapter,” says Maurine Knighton, Program Director for the Arts at The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “NPN/VAN has crafted a thoughtful, holistic, and coordinated approach to strategic planning that is centered on serving artists. We look forward to learning from the course set by their new vision and seeing the positive influence it will have on the artistic community for generations to come.”

The year-long planning process will include engagement with our Partners, artists, colleagues, and funders, through surveys and research as well as face-to-face convenings at our annual conference in December in San Francisco. NPN/VAN’s strategic planning committee is chaired by Shannon Daut, Director of City of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs, who recently completed a six-year term on the NPN/VAN Board of Directors. Committee members include Board and staff of NPN/VAN, artists, Partners, and colleagues.

We are excited to dive into this work over the next year and to emerge with a new roadmap that ensures we are focused and responsive in our work and reflects an unwavering commitment to building new systems rooted in justice. We look forward to seeking your input and sharing our new theory of change with you!


About Justin Laing: Justin Laing has lived in Pittsburgh for 25 years and has spent more than 20 years in the non-profit sector. Most recently, Laing worked for The Heinz Endowments as Senior Program Officer for Arts & Culture, planning projects in arts and culture as well as community development. In 2017 he founded Hillombo LLC to focus on his consulting work. Hillombo’s aim is to lift Black perspectives and negotiate and build alternatives to systemic racism and capitalism. Laing’s consulting work focuses on collaborative planning processes that themselves increase racial equity by centering race in the planning questions and being certain that ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) voices are visible, noted, and included in the plan’s eventual strategies. He served on the board of Grantmakers in the Arts and was the chair of its Thought Leader Forum on Racial Equity; additionally, he is a Commissioner on the City of Pittsburgh’s Equal Opportunity Review Commission, on the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and a member of Omega Psi Phi, Fraternity, Inc. Laing has a B.A. in Black Studies from the University of Pittsburgh, a Masters in Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University, and studied Capoeira Angola for 12 years with Mestre Nego Gato.

About Ian David Moss: Ian David Moss specializes in the alignment of evidence and strategy within large institutions and across complex ecosystems. Over the past decade, strategic frameworks that Moss helped create have guided the distribution of nearly $100 million in grants, and he is frequently called upon to advise funders and service organizations. As one of the arts sector’s leading practitioners of theory of change, he recently worked with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation on the foundation’s Building Demand for the Arts program, and he co-created the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s first-ever theory of change for the performing arts. For more than seven years, Moss was part of the leadership team at Fractured Atlas, and in 2007 he founded Createquity, an internationally acclaimed think tank and online publication investigating the most important issues in the arts and what we can do about them. He holds BA and MBA degrees from Yale University and is based in Washington, DC.


Emergency Relief 2017

Posted: Thursday, September 28th, 2017 at 4:59 pm in Field News, News

Emergency Relief

2017 has been one of the most disastrous years concerning weather related events in U.S. history. Recovery efforts and assessment in the continental U.S. and its territories including Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands are ongoing. As families, nonprofits and businesses continue to rebuild their lives, we know the road to recovery will be challenging. The NPN/VAN staff and Board of Directors along with other national and regional arts service organizations, state agencies, and funders are collectively supporting our colleagues and individual artists during their time of need now and in the future. We will continue to post updates on recovery efforts and links to resources. Information is listed in separate categories for Artists, Arts Organizations and To Make A Donation.


The Actors Fund has emergency financial assistance and resources available to everyone who works in performing arts (actors, dancers, musicians, stagehands, playwrights, tech crew, and many more). For information regarding the Entertainment Assistance Program visit:

  • Texas artists and art organizations should contact the Los Angeles Office at 323.933.9244, ext. 455 and
  • Louisiana artists and art organizations should contact the New York City Office at 212.221.7300, ext. 119 and


Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Emergency Grants
The Foundation provides grants to tenured professional visual artists working in the disciplines of painting, sculpture, or printmaking. The maximum amount of this grant is $15,000; an award of $5,000 is typical.
A blog providing up-to-date information on Puerto Rico and how to help.


Alliance for Artists Communities – Emergency Relief Programs
In the event of a natural disaster, the Alliance contacts its network of more than 150 residency programs to identify immediate and short-term availability of residencies. They work with affected artists (painter or sculptor) to take advantage of these residency opportunities, including grants of up to $1,000.


Artists’ Fellowship Financial Assistance
The Artists’ Fellowship provides emergency aid to professional visual artists and their families in times of natural disaster or unexpected extreme hardship. Here is the application form.



  • Emergency Relief for Artists Working In Craft Disciplines: Contact CERF+ at to see if you are eligible for grants up to $6,000, no-interest loans up to $9,000, and other assistance.
  • The Studio Protector online guide is the source for emergency preparedness and recovery information for artists. Visit the site now for suggested measures to take in advance of and in the aftermath of a hurricane.


Change, Inc. – Emergency Grants
Emergency grants of up to $1,000 for artists in all disciplines in need of emergency aid. Evidence of established professional status is required. For detail on how to apply, call 212-473-3742 for recorded instructions. Send applications to: PO Box 1818, Sanibel, Florida 33957


Creative Relief Louisiana
To help artists and arts organizations impacted in Louisiana, please visit:

Regional arts councils are working with state agencies in Louisiana and Texas, as well as national and regional agencies to assist in providing response, relief and recovery resources to artists and arts organizations affected by Hurricane Harvey/Tropical Storm Harvey.


To find help for your immediate needs, visit this website to identify resources in your area:


Find up-to-date information on FEMA’s response in areas recently impacted by the hurricanes and tropical storms (Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) visit their website. To apply for assistance, how to help, and how to search for loved ones visit their website:


Fresh Arts
In light of the unbelievable devastation Hurricane Harvey has unleashed on Houston and surrounding areas of the Texas gulf coast, Fresh Arts has compiled an “Emergency Resources for Artists” Google Spreadsheet that can be found here. The sheet includes national emergency artist grants/funding opportunities, general resource guides, local emergency response info, and links to area shelters, volunteer opportunities and more. While several resources are listed for individual artists and arts organizations, MANY of the listed resources apply to anyone in need.


Foundation for Contemporary Arts
Emergency Grant Deadline
Assistance for individual artists. Applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis monthly:


Greater Houston Community Foundation
For those seeking help from local Texas resources:


Haven Foundation Grants
The Foundation grants to safeguard and sustain the careers of established freelance artists, writers and other members of the arts and art production communities during times of difficulty.


Hero Initiative – Helping Comic Creators in Need
Applicants must have been working as a comic book writer, penciller, inker, colorist, or letterer on a work-for-hire basis for no less than 10 years to be eligible.


Jazz Foundation of America
The Foundation’s Housing and Emergency Assistance program provides jazz and blues artists with an experienced social worker to assess his/her situation and provide rapid assistance, including financial assistance. Contact: or 212-245-3999.


The Joan Mitchell: Emergency Grant Program
The Joan Mitchell Foundation provides emergency support to US based visual artists working in the mediums of painting, sculpture, and/or drawing, who have suffered significant losses after natural or manmade disasters that have affected their community. Artists who have been negatively impacted due to catastrophic situations of this nature can apply to the Foundation for funding. Please contact the Joan Mitchell Foundation for additional information at and for more info visit:


Hurricane Harvey LGBTQ Disaster Relief Fund
The LGBTQ Disaster Relief Fund, managed by the Montrose Center, will be used to help individuals and families begin to rebuild their lives through counseling, case management, direct assistance with shelf stable food, furniture, housing and more. The Center’s dedicated case management team is on call to help homeless youth, seniors, people living with HIV, hate crime survivors, and those devastated by the storm. For volunteer opportunities please visit:

While the Montrose Center will focus primarily on empowering the LGBTQ community to rebuild after the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey, we serve all people in need regardless of their sexuality.


Louisiana Association for Nonprofits Organizations (LANO)
A resource page for nonprofit organizations in Louisiana as you begin to identify needs and next steps.


MusiCares has announced the establishment of a relief fund to support members of the music community (includes producers, sound engineers, musicians songwriters, and others) affected by the recent devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Assistance includes coverage of basic living expenses such as shelter, food, utilities, and transportation; medical expenses, including doctor and hospital bills, and medications; clothing; instrument and recording equipment replacement; relocation costs; home repairs; debris removal; and more. For more information visit their website at  The following link is for an application for disaster relief:


PEN America 
The PEN Writers’ Emergency Fund is an emergency fund for professional—published or produced—writers in acute, emergency financial crisis. Depending on the situation, the Fund gives grants of up to $2,000.


Texas Workforce Commission – Disaster Unemployment Assistance
If you lost your job or work because of Hurricane Harvey, you can apply for unemployment benefits.  You may be eligible for DUA if one of the following occurred as a direct result of the disaster:

  • You lost your job, which was more than 50% of your total income.
  • You live in, work in, or travel through the disaster area.
  • Your place of employment was damaged or closed.
  • You were scheduled to start work but the job no longer exists or you can no longer reach the new job.
  • You suffered injury or incapacitation.
  • You became the breadwinner or major support of the household due to the death of the head of household.


Americans for the Arts
Are You or Do You Know an Arts Organization Affected by Irma?

There are many locations for resources and information on disaster response and recovery. Here are some of the resources we have found to help you in your recovery.

  • The Florida Division of Cultural Affairs listing of disaster recovery resources.
  • Georgia Council for the Arts lists publications and resources of disaster preparedness and response.
  • The Florida Art Therapy Association is available for those dealing with the mental strain of recovery and response
  • The Florida Association of Public Art Professionals has resources for hurricane impacted public art collections.
  • The Tampa Arts Council provides a list of post-Irma resources for the arts and cultural organizations.
  • The Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs released a message from the Director regarding recovery and assessment
  • The National Endowment for the Arts has extended their Art Works grants program due to Hurricane Irma.
  • The National Heritage Responders (NHR) responds to the needs of cultural institutions during emergencies and disasters through coordinated efforts with first responders, state agencies, vendors and the public.
  • UNESCO is in close contact with local authorities, assisting with efforts to assess damage to cultural heritage in the region including the Virgin Islands and Florida.  More information will be posted as it becomes available.


Arts Ready


Creative Relief Louisiana
To help artists and arts organizations impacted in Louisiana, please visit:

Regional arts councils are working with state agencies in Louisiana and Texas, as well as national and regional agencies to assist in providing response, relief and recovery resources to artists and arts organizations affected by Hurricane Harvey/Tropical Storm Harvey.


Performing Arts Readiness (PAR) Project
For performing arts and cultural heritage organizations needing recovery assistance, please contact PAR Project Director Tom Clareson via email at or via phone or text at (614) 439-1796 and he will put you in contact with the PAR Partner(s) who can provide you with the most appropriate assistance.


Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA)
TCA is concerned about the arts organizations and artists impacted by Hurricane Harvey.  Visit their website for information about resources that may be helpful. 


Texas Workforce Commission – Disaster Unemployment Assistance
If you lost your job or work because of Hurricane Harvey, you can apply for unemployment benefits.  You may be eligible for DUA if one of the following occurred as a direct result of the disaster:

  • You lost your job, which was more than 50% of your total income.
  • You live in, work in, or travel through the disaster area.
  • Your place of employment was damaged or closed.
  • You were scheduled to start work but the job no longer exists or you can no longer reach the new job.
  • You suffered injury or incapacitation.
  • You became the breadwinner or major support of the household due to the death of the head of household.


American Red Cross
Donations will support the larger Houston community. Please visit the Hurricane Harvey Relief website at:


Charity Navigator
To make a donation to national and local organizations that are providing food, shelter, and medical support for those in need, here is a list of highly rated charities responding in the wake of the Hurricane Harvey devastation.


Greater Houston Community Foundation
For those wanting to make monetary and/or in-kind donations, please visit the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund website:


E-Newsletter / August 16, 2017

Posted: Thursday, August 17th, 2017 at 10:54 am in E-Newsletters

Physical Translations: Notes and observations from a conversation with Darrell Jones, Justin Mitchell, and J’Sun Howard

Posted: Friday, August 11th, 2017 at 3:37 pm in International Program Reflections

By Grace Walters and Milena Berbenkova, Links Hall


The U.S.-Japan Connection is part of the International Program of the National Performance Network/Visual Artists Network (NPN/VAN). In 2014 as part of the project, Links Hall in Chicago, The Flynn Center in Burlington, Vermont, and Fusebox Festival in Austin, Texas, were selected to join three curatorial partners in Japan: Kyoto Experiment Festival, Dance Box in Kobe and NPO Arts Link for a three-year term to foster meaningful artistic and cultural exchange between Japan and the U.S.. Led by Kyoko Yoshida, project director/consultant, the partners were able to learn about artists and organizations and the strengths and challenges of cultural production in Austin, Burlington, Chicago, Kobe, Kyoto, Portland, Rikuzen-Takada, Shiogama, Tokyo, Tulsa, and Yokohama.

Together the U.S.-Japan curatorial team developed a new model of artistic exchange: providing concurrent residencies and performance opportunities in both countries for a Japanese dance artist and an American dance artist. Their goal was to create new works by learning from each other’s cultures and ways of making. This would build upon the strengths of Dance Box and Links Hall as incubators and The Flynn, Fusebox Festival and Kyoto Experiment Festival as presenters.

The two artists invited to partner with NPN’s U.S.-Japan Connection team were Chicago-based choreographer Darrell Jones and Tokyo-based choreographer Kaori Seki. The first leg included a month-long residency in the U.S. in November-December 2016 including Thanksgiving in Burlington, the NPN Annual Meeting in Austin, and three weeks working in the studios at Links Hall. Darrell and Kaori and their collaborators sat in on each other’s rehearsals, participated in each other’s workshops and warm-ups, and began their research into creating their separate new works.

The second leg took place in May 2017, as Darrell, Kaori and their collaborators then spent three weeks at Dance Box in Kobe furthering their research and development and offering workshops to the local community of dancers. Darrell and Kaori have returned to their home bases to further their works’ development. Darrell will premiere his new work CLUTCH at the Kyoto Experiment Festival in November 2017 followed by the Chicago premiere of CLUTCH at Links Hall in April 2018 on a shared weekend with Kaori Seki’s new work as part of a U.S. tour.

Links Hall’s Associate Producer Milena Berbenkova and Apprentice Producer Grace Walters sat down with Darrell Jones and two of his collaborators, J’Sun Howard and Justin Mitchell, to learn more about their recent residency at Dance Box in Kobe.


During the residency at Dance Box in Kobe, Japan, Darrell Jones focused on community workshops as a method of building material for his new work CLUTCH. As an artist Jones has spent years analyzing oppression as it lives in the body and excavating how individuals accumulate identity and mirror culture through movement. CLUTCH responds meaningfully to the need to build interpersonal empathetic bridges between individuals. In this liminal space, he engages a powerful question about the ontological reality of oppression. Can we transcend oppressive structures through movement? And can we help one another to find restorative moments of liberation? Over the course of the residency Jones conducted workshops every other morning; Kaori Seki led workshops on the alternate dates. These workshops incorporated both choreographers’ ensembles as well as the Dance Box community.

Jones’ reflection on his experience developing CLUTCH in Kobe unveiled how significant cross-cultural engagement can be to uncovering the truths of our own culture’s oppressive forces. Spending workshop time with movers from another country, the choreographers were instantly able to start picking up small, embodied differences between the groups through the everyday postures and inherent movement patterns of the countries and communities in which they grew up. Working next to an international peer gave Jones the space to question how we have developed differently – what influences set personal patterns and shaped rhythms and reactions.

The first major difference the artists discussed was around sound and how it imprints or expresses itself on and from the body. Justin Mitchell shared, “I think as Americans we are pretty boisterous and noisy and that I think is reflected in the way we hold ourselves in space, especially as people of color, that is part of life. The celebration and the expression of that is through noise and that felt like a really stark contrast to being in Japan and their practice and kind of silence. And it was pretty quiet at night where we were living, like almost deadly silent. It was like we were out in the country, but we weren’t; we were in the city. And so there was this economy of noise.” Jones added, “I was going to use the word ‘volume’ because it also felt like in how space was shaped — of how the bodies use space — just the volume that they take up in space, the volume that we take up in space, the volume of the size of our country, the volume of the size of their country. The density of the size of their country. On a practical and also a subconscious level it affects the way you relate yourself in space, your volume and also your sound and the way that you hold your body. “

CLUTCH looks at how we have been trained to move by our cultures – how as a child Jones was trained to shun any “feminine” movements. Diving into a workshop-based creation process with Kaori without a shared verbal language created a platform for Jones to communicate in more embodied ways, unpacking movements that were socially impressed upon movers from the U.S. and how they differed from movements socially impressed upon movers who were from Japan.

Even in simple tasks the American and Japanese dancers differed in physical expression. Finding himself submerged in this communal method of devising on an international field, Jones’ starting focus was on “translation,” speaking about the literal, verbal translation that he went through as he attempted to communicate verbally with Japanese dancers and movers, as well as the translation of physical communication he experienced in learning to understand the ways in which Japanese dancers moved.

Justin Mitchell, Darrell’s DJ/Sound Artist collaborator, noticed that “the language gap” regularly created situations where participants were “reaching for communal understanding.” Mitchell offered that “as individuals sometimes the Japanese dancers didn’t understand [Darrell’s] instruction, but as a group they seemed to pool their understanding and find a collective way of communicating.” Mitchell also noted “being able to communicate through music and movement was a bridge when language couldn’t fill in the gaps. We were able to communicate stories and foster understanding about who we were and that was a really powerful tool to have.”  Over the process of watching these bodies with their different cultural accumulations communicate with each other, Jones became fascinated by “translations of movements in the body, how given a directive, a certain demographic of bodies might respond very differently.”  For instance, when Jones cued with a hand gesture “to gather and be ready to move together” American dancers reacted by getting low to the ground and balancing on the balls of their feet, “like basketball players.” The Japanese dancers on the other hand responded by coming together and standing completely upright.

Initially Jones interpreted this posture as distancing or withholding from “readiness” until he saw a singer perform in a club in Kobe. In the crowded venue, the singer was sitting down and someone in the front recognized that they were blocking others’ view of the stage and squatted. Within seconds the entire crowd had dropped to the ground in the same position so everyone could see. The audience had assumed a state of readiness based on the needs of the specific scenario; they figured out how to be “ready” as a whole. He brought this back into the studio with the realization that the Japanese dancers were not un-ready in their upright position, but rather they were prepared to act together. Throughout the residency Jones sought these small differences of movement, posture, and embodied communication as the grounds where he could investigate the different cultural forces that shape physical vocabulary that unconsciously instruct or oppress bodies.

Since both Jones and his collaborators and Kaori Seki and hers observed each other’s studio time outside of the workshops, they were able to discover philosophical commonalities, especially around “disruption.” Mitchell observed that Seki’s work with her collaborators involved “a lot of balance work and off-balance work that was trying to get at disrupting this sense of what the body’s been conditioned into doing and behaviors of what the body’s used to doing.” Mitchell went on to say, “I think maybe that’s something we carry with us as Americans, too. As Black Americans, the ability to disrupt traditions in order to get at something new out of something old, to really access liberation.”

This new residency model functioned primarily as a peer-to-peer exchange. Jones and his ensemble brought experiences to share and received many in return. Reflecting on Seki’s rehearsals, Jones recalls watching his Japanese counterpart directing her ensemble through intricate weight-bearing exercises, pressing them to not take the simplest or most understood route, and complicating their physical engagements. Seki’s process of complicating movement was in counterpoint to Jones’ own process of finding ways to simplify. “I think our environment [in the U.S.] is complicated,” Jones reflected. “[In Japan] I knew that I didn’t have to worry about certain things. I didn’t worry about my public safety. I let go of my guard while I was there, so it felt like my thought processes were a little simpler…. Whenever I get the opportunity to get in the studio and make things simple, it feels like a luxury.”

J’Sun Howard agreed that existing felt simpler in Kobe: “I could just go do the work and not have to look over my shoulder and think ‘oh, there’s a police car’.” Jones himself says he’s “still digesting” the difference and that when he returned home he held onto the sense of “Oh, I’m really calm. I’m so safe and when I wake up I’m going to have my tea” like in Japan. Jones eventually felt that the environment in the U.S. was too different to maintain the tranquility. As a result, some of the work they are doing in the studio now is figuring out what influences from their time in Kobe will become part of CLUTCH and what influences won’t work for the project within their home environment.

The ensemble is definitely retaining the vocabulary of shared experiences that they now have after participating in Seki’s workshops. These communal, focused moments have made new imprints on their movement patterns that continue to affect their conversations about the development of the work. Jones didn’t feel like they learned a technique, per se, but rather they were able to “try things on their bodies.” They are continuing to acknowledge physical moments in their process that originated with experiences they shared with her but when placed on their bodies “morphs into something else.” Howard specifically pointed to “time,” which Jones referenced as “Kaori Pace” as a significant lingering influence from their shared experience with the Japanese choreographer. Howard implied that this pacing lingers because it resonated with the needs of the material they’re investigating: “If we’re talking about disruption or liberation, that takes a long time. I felt like when I was in [her] class it took time to get to where we needed to go.”

The American artists also mentioned how fruitful the low-pressure structure of the international exchange was for them. To Jones this process of shared experience rather than collaboration was “more beneficial to me than certain collaborations where we make something together. Sometimes that can be a good friction, but having an experience together that we can bring back to the work we’re doing feels very valuable.”  Not having the pressure to collaborate allowed both artists and ensembles the opportunity to impact each other in a way that, according to Jones, didn’t “feel like appropriating movement, but referencing an experience we shared together.”

Jones says that like “Kaori Pace” other physical habits from their time in Kobe “emerge in my body sometimes.” In addition, Jones’ partner was able to join him in Japan toward the end of the residency, and Jones was able to witness first-hand the process of his partner’s body learning and adapting to the new culture’s movement patterns. “It was beautiful because I saw his body change because of the mass of the culture. I just saw him intuitively orient himself around that. It’s that kind of perspective, when you’re inside something you don’t see how it’s affecting you and you need somebody from the outside to be like ‘wow, your tone has changed’.”

Through NPN’s U.S.-Japan Connection, Darrell Jones and the CLUTCH ensemble were able to witness the accumulation of culturally dictated physical identity and work across two different cultures to disrupt learned technique and ways of communicating. Jones, Howard and Mitchell promised to let us know how this experience continues to impact them as they have just started to process their experience.

One thing they are all certain of is they are grateful to NPN/VAN for the experience, especially as Jones worried, “I think we are at a time when these kind of programs might feel like they’re not important or like money might be diverted to other things.” For all four of the artists it was their first time in Japan and for Howard it was his first time out of the country. Jones, Howard and Mitchell all agreed that we can learn so much about ourselves – about our culture and how we move and think and feel – by spending time elsewhere. Jones hopes this article will “extend what we experienced to a wider group of people because not everyone gets the privilege to get out of this (gestured to encompass America).”

Darrell Jones: So thank you, thank you
Justin Mitchell: thank you
J’Sun Howard: Arigatōgozaimasu
Justin Mitchell: with a bow.

Thoughts from Outgoing Board members Rosie Gordon-Wallace and Shannon Daut

Posted: Friday, August 11th, 2017 at 3:23 pm in News


1. What does NPN/VAN mean to you?

My involvement with NPN/VAN has been a long conscientious journey and it took many twists and turns. To quote André Lorde, “I have come to believe … that what is most important to me must be made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it misunderstood.” This environment has been dear to me because I am here with my “tribe” and I have grown and deepened my ability to serve through service. I will miss the meetings and the camaraderie very much. Hopefully, you all will call up the sistah frequently. 🙂

The Partners, staff and board of directors at NPN/VAN inspire me as the organization brings together artistic leaders who represent achievement in their professional lives. I recognize and honor their work and lives. I honor the amazing diversity and friendships I have cultivated. I appreciate the support over the past ten years and look forward to what we still need to accomplish together.

I will recall the changes brought about by our collaborations and the interactive discussions and live presentations that will trigger memories and provoke new insights. I will reflect on the lessons learned in trying to improve support for artists and communities. I will hold dear what I take away from the NPN/VAN experience to inform my future endeavors.

Given the extraordinary time in which we live, it is no surprise that I will miss the discussions at the board level and among member friends, much of which is focused on the role of NPN/VAN in the conversations on current cultural policy and equity. As we prepare to meet the systematic challenges that persist of underfunding of Native American, Rural, Black, and Latinx organizations, we must continue to push for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2. What has being on the NPN/VAN board meant to you?  How did it influence you over the years?

The service on the NPN /VAN board means a commitment to fostering diversity and artistic exploration. It means seeking always to integrate the arts into the public experience, further artistic pluralism and act as an advocate for cultural equity and social justice. We advocate for greater support for artists regardless of means or access to resources. It is critical that artists be paid. It is important that artists tour their creations and exhibit their visual arts. It is so important to garner public and private support that will invest in artists and the organizations that support them. But as we advocate for greater support, it is critical that organizations continue providing dedicated support by paying artists at whatever cost.

3. How involved will you be in NPN/VAN after your board membership?

I will remain actively involved with NPN/VAN and will be here to volunteer as we continue to our social action that speaks to our mission of inclusion and diversity. In this xenophobic atmosphere, this is what I have dedicated my life to and I need to be with “my tribe” to feel encouraged and to encourage.

4. What message do you have for the current board members and advise to the incoming members?

As a founder, I long for the sweet comfortable spot that assures me I have stability and an independent organization that will flourish without me. What are the odds of that? (Ha!) Likewise, as a board, they must act as a fiduciary body, supporting the programs and partners and our new CEO and staff. How they approach fundraising and how they think of development and what success looks like will continue to be important. How they trust the friendships made and become ambassadors for NPN/VAN will deepen the joy with which they serve. I welcome the new board members, one of which is an artist DVCAI introduced to the network. So I am proud.

5. Tell us something you would like people to know about yourself.

I am young and fun! I cherish and hold dear friendships made and I love working with next-generation professionals who are optimistic, bright and fearless. See you all at the annual conference in December 2017.



1. What does NPN/VAN mean to you?

NPN/VAN has been a profound and significant organization for me, both personally and professionally. I entered the NPN family back when I was a young arts administrator. My first experience was the Western regional meeting, held in Montana in 2003, which coincided with the NPN-supported Geyserland, a site-specific video installation on a train. It blew my mind and instantly expanded my conception about the possibilities of artistic expression and art experiences. Over the years, the intersections of the arts with social and racial justice that NPN/VAN embodies challenged me to interrogate my own complicity in the racist, patriarchal and hegemonic systems that exist in every fiber of our nation’s (and citizenry’s) fabric. And yet, NPN/VAN is joyous, exuberant and fun, celebrating the arts, artists and our shared humanity. I cherish the friendships I have made through NPN/VAN and know they will continue on.

2. What has being on the NPN/VAN board meant to you?  How did it influence you over the years?

NPN/VAN was my first national board experience and I learned so much about the regular organizational things like governance and financial oversight but, more importantly, I learned about the tremendous value of holding shared values firmly within every aspect of the organization. In my time on the board, I moved from Denver to Anchorage to Santa Monica. NPN/VAN was a throughline that helped me stay rooted in my own values and instill a deep sense of purpose into each organization I led.

The board and organization evolved significantly during my tenure–we diversified even more, the organization moved into a new space, we managed the significant transition of leadership from our long-time CEO, MK Wegmann, to our new leader, Caitlin Strokosch. We said a heart-wrenching goodbye to Wesley Montgomery, and welcomed new lives (both human and furry) into the family. We went to awesome parties hosted by MK at her wonderful home, which features the best balcony patio in all of New Orleans. Through it all, the NPN/VAN staff, board, partners and friends continued the necessary work to make this world a more just, art-filled and soulful place.

3. How involved will you be in NPN/VAN after your board membership?

I am excited that I will get to continue my work with the organization because I am chairing NPN/VAN’s Strategic Planning Committee, which has been doing work in the background for the past year and will begin the actual planning process very soon. NPN/VAN is at a critical point in its life, and now is the time to envision the next wave of the organization’s work. With all that is going on in our world, the timing could not be more critical for NPN/VAN to reaffirm its values of social and racial justice, while exploring new paths to providing meaningful national leadership that will advance these causes and be deeply rooted in honoring the role of artists and communities in this work.

4. What message do you have for the current board members and advice to the incoming members?

Speak up, use your voice passionately and respectfully–it advances our work and our culture. Think critically, challenge assumptions, invent new frames for the issues we face and explore how to tackle them from a generative, creative and empowered stance. What do we want to create for the next generation? What do we want the world–and the arts world–to look like in ten years? Imagine what is possible and set yourselves to making it our reality. I know that the NPN/VAN family can do it.

5. Tell us something you would like people to know about yourself.

My partner and I are cat ladies with no cats. We started with five when we merged our homes 15 years ago and we just said goodbye to our youngest (who by then was our oldest) girl last week. Current odds are that we won’t make it more than a month without starting a new furry family–which is a bet I would happily make!

Live & On Stage Artists Announced for the NPN/VAN Annual Conference in San Francisco

Posted: Friday, August 11th, 2017 at 3:02 pm in News

Live & On Stage is a two-night production that will take place during the NPN/VAN Annual Conference, December 15 and 16, 2017. This year’s production will be hosted by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and will feature the work of nine Bay Area performing artists/artist companies.

Live & On Stage provides an opportunity for conference attendees to experience the work of artists living and working in the Bay Area. It also provides those performing artists an opportunity to show their work to the attendees of the Annual Conference, an audience made up of presenters, curators, colleagues, funders, and artists from across the nation.

The selection process included a full application and review by a panel comprised of the Bay Area Host Committee, NPN/VAN Partners, NPN/VAN staff, production staff, and artists. Applications were evaluated based on feasibility, stage readiness, potential audience, and Partner interest. All artists are creating work in alignment with NPN/VAN’s commitment to anti-oppression and freedom of expression, and we are thrilled about presenting them this December.

In an effort to provide attendees the opportunity for deeper local engagement and organizing, all performers were chosen from a pool of artists nominated by members of the Bay Area Host Committee. Nine artist companies were chosen that represent the racial, geographic, aesthetic, career stage, disciplinary/genre, and cultural diversity of the Bay Area artist communities.

The Bay Area artist companies selected for the 2017 Live & On Stage performances are:

  1. DelinaDream Productions, An Open Love Letter to Black Fathers
  2. Embodiment Project, Ancient Children
  3. Echo Brown, Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters
  4. AXIS Dance Company, Divide
  5. Campo Santo, H.O.M.E. (Hookers On Mars Eventually)
  6. Ryan Nicole Austin, If You Give a Black Girl a Lemon
  7. Guerrilla Rep, Mommy Queerest
  8. Star Amerasu, Rebecca
  9. Rotimi Agbabiaka, Type/Caste

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