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Katie Nix and Rick Armon , The Akron Beacon Journal  |  May 15, 2015

Knight Foundation pledges $5 million to fund choreography center at UA

The University of Akron is dancing for joy.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Thursday announced $5 million in funding for the school and the nonprofit DANCECleveland to launch the National Center for Choreography on the Akron campus. It will be only the second center of its kind in the country.

"We want to increase the amount of experiential learning our students receive - whether it's in the sciences or the arts," UA President Scott Scarborough said. "[The dance program] has a historical legacy, and we want to build on the strength that comes with that history. When people say 'The University of Akron,' you think of polymers and engineers, We want to be known for our art programs as well."

The center will provide national choreographers and dance companies with access to seven dance studios and the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall so they can create new work. It also will help UA by using Guzzetta Hall, which was refurbished and expanded in part to house the Ohio Ballet. (The ballet company ceased operations, however, before the addition opened.) The university also expects students to benefit from professional artists being on campus.

"We want the students to have hands-on experience before they go out into their fields," Scarborough said. "This is an investment in learning, and it's important the students can learn in person as opposed to a textbook. But they also can rub shoulders with people already in the field. It gives them contacts to help get jobs later and which is integral to all of our programs."

The dance activities are expected to begin immediately, although the groups still must hire an executive director and appoint a five-member board of directors to oversee the center.

The idea follows a blue-ribbon panel that examined the future of dance and a feasibility study funded by Knight and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, housed at Florida State University, is the only other national choreography center in the nation at a major research institution.

"Dance makers are very underrepresented when it comes to resources," DANCECleveland Executive Director Pamela Young said. "This is a game-changer that will be felt locally, regionally and nationally."

Young said the center is important for choreographers because, more often than not, they do not get to see the dances onstage with the accompanying sets and costumes until a few hours before the show - making the job vastly more difficult if something goes wrong or doesn't look correct.

"With the new center, dance makers can get a look at the full performance throughout the process," Young said. "They will have access to the studios in Guzzetta Hall and access to E.J. Thomas [Hall], this gap will be filled.

Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Miami-based Knight Foundation, also attended the event.

"Vision, talent, ability, will and tenacity will help pull this off," Ibarguen said. "This will not be for the faint of heart, and it's all being made possible because of the combination of desire, facilities and community support."

UA and DANCECleveland, which have partnered on dance performances and projects since 2006, have agreed to an 11-page memorandum of understanding to create the center. Knight has pledged $5 million to support it once the center is established. The groups are still finalizing the agreement.

The memorandum notes that the Knight Foundation has the option to name the center after its organization. If it decides not to, the parties may seek to sell naming rights.

Scarborough said that the $5 million is to be spread out evenly over the course of five years, therefore the foundation would be bearing most of the costs associated with the center during that time.

UA, however, is responsible for dance studio space, office space for the center staff, access to costume and scenery, access to E.J. Thomas and support from the theater production crew.

It also says the center will conduct its own fundraising.

DANCECleveland is one of eight stand-alone, dance-only presenters in the country. It has presented performances by more than 200 dance companies, conducted more than 1,000 workshops and master classes, and produced seven commissioned works.

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