Merce Cunningham's Company Faces Fund-Raising Challenges

In June, Merce Cunningham announced an initiative called the Living Legacy Plan that would safeguard his work and provide for a smooth transition of assets in the event that he should no longer be able to serve as leader of his New York–based dance company. It was an innovative move in a career marked by innovation. But with Cunningham’s death Sunday, his foundation finds itself in the difficult position of having to fund the eight-million-dollar plan as it goes into effect, David Ng of the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Cunningham Dance Foundation said Monday that it has raised approximately $2.5 million toward the $8 million goal, with most of the money so far coming from lead gifts from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Nonprofit Finance Fund. “While Merce was alive, we had the luxury of time to raise the money. Obviously, the effort is even more urgent now,” said Allan Sperling, a Cunningham Foundation board member and chairman of the legacy committee. Tambra Dillon, the Cunningham Foundation’s director of institutional advancement, said, “We have several large financial prospects pending, and we’re confident that we will reach our goal.”

Cunningham’s Living Legacy Plan provides for a two-year international tour followed by the closure of the dance company. Those cities that are already on the company’s schedule will be absorbed into the final tour. After the company’s closure, dancers, musicians and other staff members will continue to receive compensation and career-transition resources for a limited period, provided that the eight-million-dollar fund-raising goal is met in time, according to company leaders. The plan states that all the company’s assets will be transferred to the Merce Cunningham Trust, which will serve as the custodian. The trust, which was founded several years ago, will continue to administer the performance rights for the dances that Cunningham created during his life. In addition, the company will create a series of “dance capsules”—digital packages containing complete documentation of Cunningham’s repertory work. The company said it has just begun working on the capsules and hopes to have ten completed by June 2010. The Cunningham Foundation said it will take three or more years for the entire legacy plan to be completed. The foundation operates on a budget of approximately five million dollars a year, with half the money coming from donors and half from performance revenue.