Plan in Advance
Our program in Greece went through some serious changes before emerging as one of the most rewarding we’ve ever done. If we hadn’t had the lead time that 10 months of planning allowed, then we would not have been able to weather the big changes (in funders, in local host institutions) that came down the pike.
Don’t Underestimate the Value of a Good Local Partner
As the narrative reveals, the Onassis Cultural Centre was the ideal partner for the U.S. Embassy and Battery Dance Company – providing obvious resources such as funding and a magnificent theater. But just as important were the behind-the-scenes elements such as generosity of spirit and collaborative instinct; expertise in arts education and theater production technology; excellent connections with the community of dancers, dance teachers, arts managers and the cultural press; built-in audience and prestige.
Offer a Big Menu of Program Offerings
You can’t predict when some of your skills and offerings may suit the needs of a sponsor. Case in point: in addition to the arts education workshops and performance that were the heart of our program in Greece, we were able to conduct arts management and dance teacher training workshops and a special program for hearing impaired students. We had the extra days and funding to allow for these extras, and the local team at the Embassy and OCC understood how these programs could add to the impact of our time in Athens.
Starting from the end and going backwards may be the best way to tell the story of our ten-day program in Greece. The score card includes 5 intensive Dancing to Connect workshops with a nearly full complement of 100 youth; a 3-hour workshop with teachers and 15 students at the National School for the Deaf; a 3-hour teacher training workshop with choreographers, dance and gym teachers; an arts management workshop for 30 administrators from cultural organizations, performing arts ensembles and journalists; and in-depth training of 5 Greek teaching artists and a performance attended by 700 people which was live streamed and is archived.
It seemed in the planning phase (and in retrospect) like an impossibly extensive schedule but while it was happening, we were carried along seamlessly and with full support at every moment. Did this have something to do with the mild weather after the snows of Northern France? Or our proximity to the wonders of ancient Greece, with the Acropolis within walking distance from our hotel? Or the magnificent facilities of the Onassis Cultural Centre? Yes, to all of the above. But even more so, I credit the talent, generosity, savvy and open-mindedness of our Greek partners at the US Embassy and the Onassis Cultural Centre.
How did we get to this point of utter program and personal fulfillment? It was anything but a straight path. We originally targeted Greece because we felt the economic crisis must leave people with a thirst for enrichment through the arts and education. We found to our delight that the Public Affairs Staff at the U.S. Embassy gravitated to our concept when we first approached them in May, 2012. The question of funding was an impediment from the beginning; but the open dialogue between us allowed us to stay focused and collaborative. We had entered into conversation with an international foundation that we thought would be a likely prospect to co-fund the project with the Embassy. It took us six months of back-and-forth to discover that we were barking up the wrong tree. Likewise, we were directed towards an important dance education institution in Athens as our local partner, only to find that everything we thought we understood about the cooperation was a mirage.
One of our affiliated artists was based in Greece and by chance, discussed the project and the need for a local partner with the education director of the Onassis Cultural Centre. It turned out that Battery Dance Company’s approach was a perfect fit for the OCC. From that point onwards, the Embassy, OCC and BDC became a dream team, with great and rare unanimity of purpose, philosophy and approach. This type of synergy happens very infrequently, and we treasure it.
The success of the program can best be seen in that there are several strands of follow-on activities that are in the midst of blossoming. One of the student DtC groups has made a dance video embedded with the theme of ending human trafficking. They were mentored by the Greek teaching artist who had partnered with us at the school. The five Greek teaching artists, none of whom had worked in the same company before, have coalesced as a group and are preparing work to be presented at Battery Dance Company’s Downtown Dance Festival in August (with facilitative and financial support from the OCC.)
Just as in any successful partnership, we feel as if we have received more than we could possibly have given ourselves. We hope we can come close to replicating this program as we travel elsewhere and build new international cultural engagement programs.