For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, DCDC reported total revenues of $1.7 million with $1.5 million from contributions and grants, $237,907 from program service revenue, $2,161 from investment income, and $19,969 from other revenue. Total expenses were $1.7 million. However, the 2022-2023 season brought the surprise cancellation of DCDC’s popular “In the Spirit of…” holiday concert due to “rising production costs and very sluggish ticket sales,” according to staff. In addition to the departure of its financial manager, the company most notably saw the exit of Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders, who retired Dec. 31 after 18 years as executive director.
Credit: Hiromi Platt Photography
Credit: Hiromi Platt Photography
In January, Phyllis Brzozowska, who served as DCDC executive director from 1999 to 2003, was named interim executive director and was formally selected for the role in June. She recognizes the financial shortcomings upon her arrival, which resulted in three staff layoffs, but has been steadily encouraged ever since. In particular, a GoFundMe campaign established to raise $550,000 by June 30 has resulted in over $247,800 thus far.
“When I stepped in, we were about $900,000 in the hole in January,” Brzozowska said. “Now we’re only about $150,000 down. So, we’ve made incredible progress in the last five months (due to) the GoFundMe campaign and several special grants. We were able to receive special funding through the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD). The Mellon Foundation, who has funded us in the past, made a promise for some money that’s coming. Our board members also stepped up with major gifts. We told people we were going through a tough period, that we’re coming up on our 55th anniversary and really needed to get back on our feet and be strong. And people have really stepped up.”
Back to basics
In 2021 The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced awarding DCDC a grant of $771,000 over three years as part of its Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative aimed to address funding inequity in the arts sector. Within the past month, DCDC received $45,000 from the Miriam Rosenthal Foundation for the Arts to acquire, restage and perform Paul Taylor’s legendary “Esplanade” in February 2024. The group also received $65,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to support its regional touring, specifically “The Black Tour” now rebranded as “The Blackest Berry: Dancing African Diasporas.”
“One of my objectives is to increase DCDC’s touring because that has always been a significant revenue stream for us and that has fallen off,” Brzozowska said. “Both ticket sales and touring – to really have the company maximize our potential for earned income – is part of our strategy for more economic stability. So, in a way, (touring) promotes our own ability to earn income so that we have the money for operational support. Touring also helps us recruit and retain really good dancers.”
Brzozowska has four decades of arts management. In 1980 she co-founded and developed Cityfolk, a traditional and ethnic arts organization. She also directed Cityfolk for 18 years. She says the grass roots, entrepreneurial spirit that served as Cityfolk’s foundation continues to serve her well in her return to DCDC, which faced similar financial woes when she originally joined the organization.
“When I stepped into DCDC 23 years ago, they were having financial troubles,” she recalled. “But again, it was a (question) of how do we make this work? Where do we find the funds? Who are our supporters? What are our strengths? How do we build on those strengths? How do we find strategic projects? At the time, it was the centennial of powered flight and we were able to raise about $2 million to do the flight project that could commission new works and then there was a major tour around the country to do it. Coming up with some creative ways to leverage strengths has been my legacy.”
Overseeing DCDC’s rebuilding, Brzozowska says it’s vital for all involved to remain focused. She says the company’s 2019 pre-COVID-19 strategic plan had “really lofty ideas” including the goal that it would grow by 25% every year.
“After COVID, I think the company started to implement the (plans) before the money was really there – and that’s the deficit,” she said. “So now, we want to get back to what we do: performance and education. We’re going to really focus on that and do it well. We’re going to build up our administrative staff again as well.”
DCDC Artistic Director Debbie Blunden-Diggs, daughter of DCDC founder Jeraldyne Blunden, welcomes Brzozowska’s input and vision during this pivotal time of transition.
“This is a co-leadership model,” Blunden-Diggs said. “We are really trying to stay in step to make decisions that are the best decisions for the organization. Being an African American organization for 55 consecutive years in this community is a huge deal. There’s nothing small about it. We made it through COVID. A lot of organizations, a lot of our colleagues across the country, did not. They just couldn’t weather the storm. I always say failure is not in our DNA around here. So, we shift, we pivot.”
One of the most significant pivots was solidifying DCDC’s return to the Victoria Theatre for three concerts in its 2023-2024 season. In recent years, the company routinely performed at a variety of area venues such as Dayton Masonic Center, Levitt Pavilion and Sinclair Community College. For the first time, DCDC will be a resident company of Dayton Live, who owns and operates the historic downtown venue.
“The Victoria Theatre is where we present best,” Blunden-Diggs said. “It gives (the audience) a very intimate look at us in our presentation. I’ve always thought it was where we should be. We can now call the Victoria Theatre our home. The high art repertory we present deserves to be seen at a mainstage theatre site.”
Brzozowska said it was “absolutely crucial” for the company to be showcased at the Victoria Theatre.
“DCDC needs to be on Main Street in the Victoria Theatre,” she said. “We’re also going to invest in marketing. You’re going to see us on TV, you’re going to see good graphics, you’re going to see us partnering with Dayton Metro Library. We’re going to really promote the company. Our goal is to sell tickets, get more touring, get the revenue up and grow from there.”
Former DCDC Artistic Director Kevin Ward, now serving as senior artistic associate, is also a part of the company’s administrative reshaping. He has been busy spearheading an initiative to have Jeraldyne Blunden commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp. Over 13,400 signatures have been gathered in support of the campaign. He is hopeful the goal of 15,000 signatures will be reached. At the end of June, he will mail the signatures to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee in Washington, D.C.
“Then we wait – the waiting begins,” Ward said. “A board (comprised) of arts and business leaders will recommend whether or not to send the (petition) forward with the (ultimate) recommendation going before the postmaster general.”
As Blunden-Diggs leads with guidance from Brzozowska and Ward, she values their commitment to the company because it reflects the importance of legacy.
“What is really amazing is that Phyllis and Kevin were both gone for a 20-year period and they’re back under our roof as we can continue to surge forward,” she said. “This organization nurtures you. Sometimes you leave but people come back because it’s important what (Jeraldyne Blunden) started and founded in this community.”
DCDC’s 55th anniversary season will open with “In Good Company,” slated Oct. 14-15, 2023. The concert will feature DCDC and its “sister” company Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, a Denver-based troupe among the members of the IABD, in a performance of “Jacob’s Ladder” by hip-hop dance legend Rennie Harris. The concert will also include a new work by Charles O. Anderson, founder of Philadelphia-based Dance Theatre X and the first African American male chair of Ohio State University’s Department of Dance.
Just in time for the holidays, DCDC will present its community-centric concert “In the Spirit of... Grace.” Slated Dec. 2-3, 2023, the program will feature a gospel choir under the direction of DCDC Music Director Deron Bell as well as a performance of “In My Father’s House” choreographed by Blunden-Diggs.
During Black History Month, the organization will present “In Modern Moves.” The Feb. 17-18, 2024 concert will feature two works by Talley Beatty representing a span of time from Reconstruction to the culmination of the Great Migration. In addition, the aforementioned Ward’s “And Each Day” will explore the “cumulative power of ‘we the people.’”
A special highlight of “In Modern Moves” will be the company premiere of the aforementioned “Esplanade,” Paul Taylor’s acclaimed 1975 work featuring everyday, pedestrian movement set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. From his early days as a choreographer in 1954 until his death in 2018, Taylor helped define modern dance in America. He was a 1992 Kennedy Center Honors recipient and 1993 National Medal of Arts recipient. DCDC will become the first African American dance company to receive “Esplanade” into its repertoire. The work will be performed to live music by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra under Peter Stafford Wilson’s direction.
The season will close with DCDC2′s presentation of “In Freedom” April 27-28, 2024 at University of Dayton’s Boll Theatre. DCDC2 Artistic Director Shonna Hickman-Matlock will commission both young and seasoned choreographers to explore themes of what it means to live with and without freedom.
“This is a season not to be missed,” Brzozowska said. “Debbie has designed the perfect combination to demonstrate and celebrate DCDC’s incredible 55-year legacy.”
Season subscriptions are on sale now. Subscription pricing until Aug. 1 ranges from $55.20-$180. After Aug. 1, subscriptions will range from $62.10-$202.50. Single tickets, which will go on sale after Aug. 1, will be priced at $23-$75. For tickets, call 937-228-3630 or visit daytonlive.org.
In March Blunden-Diggs represented the IABD at the White House. The organization was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Biden. DCDC was one of the five dance organizations that founded IABD.
She recognizes DCDC will remain in fundraising mode for the foreseeable future but is confident the community will continue to rally in support of its mission.
“As with all arts organizations across the country, we are dealing with some cash deficits and we always need to raise money,” she said. “There is not a season in my history – and I’ve been here 50 years – that money hasn’t been something we have to concentrate on. But we’re here, we’re alive, and we’re about to step into our 55th season.”
For more information about DCDC, visit dcdc.org.