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Dance Theatre of Harlem in rehearsal for “Passage,” 2018. Photo: Brian Callan.
Dance Theatre of Harlem in rehearsal for “Passage,” 2018. Photo: Brian Callan.

Mellon Foundation Gives $4 Million to Dance Theater of Harlem

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has gifted the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH) $4 million, which, coupled with a matching grant of $1 million from the dance organization’s board of directors, brings the total incoming sum to $5 million—the largest single grant to be made to the ballet company in its fifty-year history. The funds will be used to commission new works, invest in fundraising infrastructure and leadership, improve staff salaries, and increase the New York company’s size from eighteen to twenty dancers. 

“The Mellon Foundation enthusiastically offers its support to Dance Theater of Harlem’s visionary leaders as they guide the company to a bright and flourishing future,” said foundation president Elizabeth Alexander. Since being cofounded by modern dance trailblazer Arthur Mitchell in 1969, DTH has maintained a commitment to supporting choreographers of color. Beset by $2 million in debt in 2004, the company laid off all forty-four dancers. By 2009, Laveen Naidu, the organization’s executive director at the time, announced that the debt had been brought down by more than half.

DTH founding member and former principal ballerina Virginia Johnson, who was appointed the company’s artistic director in 2009, said: “Not only is the grant a tribute to our history of blazing through barriers to dancers of color, it’s an opportunity to redefine ballet for the twenty-first century by developing new voices, establishing a culture of artistic inquiry, and producing meaningful art.”