Velocity Dance Center’s Fall Kick Off has taken many forms over the years, including festival line ups and parties swarming with performance instillations, often showcasing both excerpts from the year prior and teasing the season to come. This year with Fall Kick Off, however, Velocity is getting back to its roots as an organization that serves artists, offering a full week of artist services and professional development opportunities. “We’ve always had a professional development component to Fall Kick Off…and I thought let’s beef that up this year and make it central to the programing,” says Erin Johnson, Interim Artistic Director of Velocity.
The week features a series of free mid-day workshops, on topics like getting funding, how to talk about your work, and the step-by-step process of production.
The Seattle Resource Fair refreshingly recognizes that actually surviving in Seattle is a key to art-making, offering information on subsidized bus passes, discounted legal council, housing, healthcare, and more. The week also includes a cross-disciplinary collaborator mixer and a community conversation focused on strategies for making inclusive and accessible work.
The shift in programming comes just after an exciting opportunity for Johnson this past summer, where she was selected to attend the National Dance Presenters Forum at Jacob’s Pillow. The four-day workshop drew fifteen dance presenters from across the country to learn directly from a host of dance presenter heavyweights, like Krista Bradley, Director of Programs at APAP, and Amy Fitterer, Executive Director of DanceUSA. Sessions throughout the forum focused on topics like artistic ideals, curation, how to contextualize work, fundraising, and selling a pitch to investors.
“It’s specifically for folks who are at, in either their organization’s lifespan or their personal professional development, moments of change or moments of newness,” says Johnson. “It was a perfect moment for me to clarify my artistic goals and also for Velocity as we look at the next step in our strategic plan—where we’re going, who we’re serving.”
In addition to learning from the industry’s best, the participants were also able to connect with a cohort of peers. “The thing that was cool about it was that we’re all working towards the same goals in our communities,” says Johnson, “It gave me a lot to think about and made me recognize that I don’t have to rebuild the wheel all the time. There are resources and people out there who are interested in the same things that we’re doing, that have already made similar programs that we can be in conversation with.” Similarly, peers expressed interest in modeling new initiatives based on programs Velocity has developed and become known for.
A big topic during the forum was accessibility. It happened that during the time that Johnson was at the Pillow, Director Pamela Tatge published an Op-Ed in The Birkshire Eagle that described several instances of racism experienced by a person of color interacting with white patrons at a Pillow gala, calling for the community to create a more inclusive space. While Jacob’s Pillow’s history is rich with Modern dance icons, it must also must also grapple with its seed in the Denishawn Company, which has been criticized for exotification and appropriation of non-western cultures.
“It made me think about Velocity and how our history informs how people enter and exit, how they feel comfortable in our space, how we’re telling our story framed by our history, both the positive and negative. We talked a lot about signaling and the small ways in which we can make people feel more welcome or get the information they need from our website or materials,” says Johnson, who reports that the topic was a priority for the entire cohort.
To increase Velocity’s inclusivity Johnson has been thinking in both the large sense—through fostering community, curation, and framing—and in the practical details, like making sure a show’s translation services are listed clearly on the poster, or the newly-installed buzzer for Velocity’s ramp gate. For Johnson, it’s important that the value of accessibility be an ongoing, guiding principal.
“When you’re thinking about curating a season…how are you expressing those values in every single thing you’re doing over the season? Over the year? How are you reaching those goals, so it’s not just, oh we programed a trans artist, see we care about trans artists.” Her strategy is rooted in listening to artists and who they want to be able to access their work. And then being flexible enough to make it happen.
So when it came to planning the 2019 Fall Kick Off, Johnson saw an opportunity to address some of the barriers facing dance artists in Seattle—access to funding, entrepreneurial skills, the knowledge to take advantage of public services, and of course, cost barriers. Between September 16 and 21, all Velocity classes offered will be just $5 to attend.
“I don’t think showcases are completely off the table like we’re never going to do them again,” says Johnson, “it’s more that there are a lot of opportunities in this city to show work and I think that’s one of the positives of our community. But when I was looking at what was missing, I think the opportunity to really invest in yourself for a week, and try out all the classes that Velocity has for the fall, and make new connections, and plan the next year.”
For more information on Velocity’s Fall Kick Off programming, check out http://velocitydancecenter.org/events/fall-kick-off/. Almost all programming is free but registration is encouraged.