McKnight Dance and Chroeography Fellowships reborn at Northrop


It's been an interesting year for the McKnight Foundation Dance and Choreography Fellowships. They were the mishandled funds at the center of the Southern Theater meltdown, which saw that West Bank Institution dismantled and reconstituted.

However while much has been said of the Southern, there not been much public discussion of the Fellowships themselves.

Today the McKnight Foundation announced the program will be managed by Northrop Concerts and lectures, which oversees the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.As in the past the program will award three $25,000 fellowships for dancers and three $25,000 fellowships for choreographers.

"The biggest change will be the international residency component, which we are all very excited about," says McKnight Program Officer Laura Zimmerman. "That's so new I think that none of us know how it will turn out."

The program will now offer a $10,000 grant to fund one choreographer each year to collaborate with Twin Cities dance artists and showcase works-in-progress. There will be additional money to cover expenses and studio costs.

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Zimmerman sees it as an opportunity to enhance Minnesota dance here and elsewhere.

"Have people who come in with new ideas, new ways of working, new relationships, and be able to interact with our dance community and then bring some of that here, and take some of what is happening here out into the world," she says.

Zimmerman says one of the attractions of the Northrop collaboration is to tap into the expertise of director Ben Johnson. She says there will be opportunities for both dancers and choreographers.

"I think Ben will be able to facilitate opportunities and connections for people outside of Minnesota and that's a great improvement to the program," she says.

Johnson is also very jazzed by the opportunity. He spoke from Edinburgh, Scotland whre he is attending the International Arts Festival to see the premier of the Scottish Ballet presentation which will open the Northrop season in the fall.

"When McKnight approached us it really aligned with the new vision of how we wanted to really support Twin Cities-based artists - kind of with a twist - and really align them with our international profile and then our national networks, and really think about what ways we could leverage the resources of the university to really highlight and support and inspire Minnesota artistry," he said.

Johnson says the choreographer selection panel will now include people from outside Minnesota, which will help spread the word about work being developed here. He says that will also be true of the international residency, which he believes will also bring greater recognition to the actual dance spaces in Minnesota.

The opening of the new Cowles Center next month, and then the renovation of the Northop itself will be a significant boost to the dance venues in the Twin Cities. The Northrop is now closed for the building work, but Johnson sees that as an opportunity to work with other venues and spaces.

"So the opportunity for this fellowship to happen is perfect," he said.

Neither Johnson nor Zimmerman believes the problems at the Southern have hurt the fellowships themselves. Indeed Zimmerman says she was extremely heartened by the way the McKnight Board quickly stepped in when it heard about the problems and worked hard to make sure the artists who faced losing grant money were made whole.

"It was a crazy, stressful couple of months, she admits. "But it was also incredibly affirming."

"To my mind the reputation of the program remained solid," she continued. "And people were just really hopeful that it would continue, and that it would continue in some place that really would have the administrative backbone to support it."

The Fellowships have been administered this year by Springboard for the Arts, and it will continue working with the current fellows. Work is already underway for the 2012 program and details are expected to be announced in October.