Kickstarting Dance in Baltimore

One of the nice things about the Kickstarter platform is that it’s been around long enough to accumulate some meaningful data on funding and the arts. It’s also got a handy tool to look at past funding efforts. Baltimore Dance only has 22 projects, so it’s not a huge set of data to work with, but it’s something. Keep that in mind – small data set = big errors. A lot of “theater” projects could be dance performance projects, and they are not included, and, in contrast, several of these “Dance” projects are related to dance, but not dance performance (there’s a costume fundraiser and a film project in there). So again, lots of error. Having said all that, is there anything meaningful to learn? Probably…

We’ve touched on Kickstarter before, but today’s exercise is about how Kickstarter has worked for dance in Baltimore, so I won’t be addressing any specific projects or people. I’m also going to exclude the film and travel efforts and try to focus on dance performance efforts. They overlap, so it’s a judgement call, and we’re left with 16 of 22 original projects. 11 successfully funded projects and 5 unsuccessfully funded projects remain. That screen drops just one successfully funded project, so that speaks well of Baltimore performance efforts. Data goes back to 2010, so that leaves us with:

Year Total Success Success Percentage
2010 1 0 0%
2011 2 1 50%
2012 5 4 80%
2013 3 3 100%
2014 1 0 0%
2015 2 2 100%
2016 2 1 50%
Total 16 11 69%

2012/2013 was peak funding year for dance in Baltimore, with 8 projects launched and 7 successfully funded. Since then, Baltimore dance activity on Kickstarter has dropped dramatically, but it’s impossible to know why. Has Baltimore (or dance) moved to other crowd-sourcing platforms? Fewer productions that require funding? Has other funding appeared? Is the Kickstarter overhead too much to bear with local dance economics?

Within this set of successfully funded projects, the average contribution was just a bit over $80 ($80.04, range $35.73 – $160.81) from just under 60 backers (58.4, range 7-237). Also interesting, within successful projects, the total raised averaged 120% of the funding requested, with 3 of 11 reaching 130+%. When Kickstarter works for Baltimore dance, it works well.

When Kickstarter doesn’t work for dance, it’s pretty dramatic. None of the 5 unsuccessfully-funded efforts on Kickstarter had more than 9 backers and none of them even reached 20% of their funding goal. Again, it’s impossible to know precisely what is behind this result. There’s a general conclusion even without more information – if you’re on a crowd-sourced funding platform, you really need access to a crowd.

Ethan Mollick’s Crowd-Funding Economic Impact Study

A few weeks ago, Ethan Mollick of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania published Containing Multitudes: The Many Impacts of Kickstarter Funding. In the crowd-funding era of arts economics, Kickstarter isn’t the only game in town, and each site (or system) has its own quirks. But, let’s start with the paper’s abstract:

Using a survey of 61,654 successful Kickstarter projects, I examined the various long-term impacts of crowdfunding. I found that every dollar given to projects via Kickstarter resulted in a mean of $2.46 in additional revenue outside of Kickstarter (95% Confidence Interval (CI): $1.82 to $3.09), though these amounts were much higher in categories such as food and product design and lower in film. From inception to May, 2015, Kickstarter projects resulted in around 5,135 ongoing fulltime jobs besides those that went to creators (95% CI: 1,188 to 9,082), and led to the hiring of around 160,425 temporary workers (95% CI: 145,330 to 175,518). Over 50% of projects were reported as being innovative by both backers and creators, and projects produced over 2,601 patent applications. Creators also reported significant positive impacts on their careers, and suggested that many projects helped a community or society in some way.

A couple things to note – this is only Kickstarter data and the survey instrument is not available. Kickstarter projects cover a lot of things besides art, and a lot of art stuff that isn’t dance. For this paper, dance and theater are combined.

Still, an important bit of data emerges. Included in the paper is a graph of “dollars generated to dollars pledged” which suggests that, on average, for each dollar pledged in a successful, completed Kickstarter-backed dance/theater project, about $5 of additional revenue is generated. That’s close to double the Kickstarter-wide average of $2.46 generated per dollar pledged and the most efficient non-product category discussed in the paper. It’s easy to imagine this has a lot to do with non-pledge-benefit ticket sales in the dance/theater world, but that’s just speculation on my part.

It’s not something you can take to the bank (every crowd-funding exercise is different and this particular metric is highly variable), but if you are planning to do some crowd-funding for a dance project, keep that 5-to-1 multiplier in mind. That’s real leverage.

Baltimore’s Future Fitness and Wellness Centers

A little while ago, I mentioned the Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Department Recreation and Aquatics Facility Analysis and Plan July 2015, which is a 100-page document that describes some interesting stuff for the future of dance in the city of Baltimore. If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, please, dig in. Funding for this plan (more than $135 million) is controversial and political. But this plan is important, just keep in mind that this is a planning document, which means it’s not real until it’s real.

Why is this a big deal for dance in Baltimore? The Rita Church and Morrell Park Community Centers are the first new stand-alone community centers in Baltimore in a decade and follow a dramatic series of closings. The city wants you involved.

Why is this a big deal for In the Dancer’s Studio? Because these facilities will be designed and built over the next 10 to 15 years (give or take, subject to funding availability, etc.), and dance is already part of the equation. The dancers of Baltimore can get involved in the design and allocation of space. I keep asking… What does Baltimore need to make dance work?

Here’s the language used in the plan. Baltimore describes “Fitness and Wellness Centers” as:

…recreation facilities that are located in or near parks, other recreational facilities, and athletic fields. These larger (30,000+ s.f.), full-service centers will provide multiple programs and activities for all ages, extended hours of operation in the mornings and afternoons, and 6 – 7 day operations. The centers will include spaces such as fitness areas, dance and multi-purpose rooms, a gymnasium, and men’s and women’s locker rooms. Several of the new facilities will include indoor pools. The wide variety of programming will be designed for individuals, teens, youth, adults, active older adults, and families and will attract residents citywide.

and “Community Centers” as:

…recreation facilities that located in or near parks, other aquatics facilities, and athletic fields. These smaller centers (less than 30,000 s.f.) will provide a range of programs and activities for all ages with extended hours of operation. The facilities will vary in size and programming depending upon location. Expanded spaces may include a fitness room, dance spaces, multi-purpose rooms, lobby and circulation areas, and men’s/women’s changing rooms/bathrooms. Programming will likely serve more local residents.

These two classes of facilities both specifically include dance. Since we’re about the business of dance here, I’m going to ignore the “Seasonal Athletic Centers,” “Outdoor Aquatic Centers” and “School-Based Recreation Spaces” (even though this will necessarily ignore the nice people at Fluid Movement).

The planned Fitness and Wellness Centers are:

  1. Cahill, $12 million, in design, 32,000 square feet, includes a performing arts space.
  2. Carroll Park, $12 million, funding to be identified, includes a dance space
  3. CC Jackson, $4.22 million, under construction
  4. Cherry Hill, $11.5 million, under construction, includes a dance space, estimated completion Spring 2017
  5. Chick Webb, $12 million, funding to be identified
  6. Clifton Park (Rita R Church), $3.5 million, phase 1 completed 2013. $4.54 million, phase 2 under construction
  7. Druid Hill, $8 million, funding to be identified
  8. Farring-Baybrook, $12 million, funding to be identified
  9. Herring Run, $15 million, funding to be identified, includes a dance space
  10. Lillian Jones, $12.5 million, funding to be identified
  11. North Harford, $12 million, funding to be identified, two phases

The planned Community Centers are:

  1. Edgewood-Lyndhurst, $1 million, funding to be identified
  2. Locust Point, $2.5 million, funding to be identified
  3. Morrell Park, $4.5 million, completed 2014, 18,000 square feet.
  4. Patterson Park (Virginia S. Baker), $6.3 million, funding to be identified

Baltimore Rec Facilities 2016 Plan
If there’s a link to a facility in the list above, it goes directly to the city’s “Destination Active Baltimore” website, where you can engage directly and share your thoughts on what happens. Previously, I mentioned that the Cahill facility was particularly interesting for the Baltimore dance community. This is why:

The existing center located in Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park will be expanded or newly built. Presently in the early stages of design, the form of the new facility is yet to be determined. The center will be 32,000 square feet and will include performing arts facilities, an indoor pool, fitness area and provide a new focus on outdoor recreation and environmental programming. Project completion is anticipated for Fall 2017. Cost: $12 million

Cahill brings 32,000 square feet of facility, some of which is already designated for performing arts. Is your particular kind of dance a performing art? Got any special requirements to make a performing arts space work for you? Cahill is also adjacent to Gwynns Falls Park, which suggests a question… Is an outdoor stage interesting?

Cherry Hill’s plan includes a dance studio, scheduled to open in Spring 2017. Anyone out there need a dance studio space in south Baltimore?

Locust Point has two “multipurpose” rooms in its plan – anyone want to make the case to put a sprung floor in one of them?

Conversations on Dance in Baltimore

As some of you know, I’ve been sitting down with small groups of dancers in the Baltimore region for many weeks now. I’ve tried to keep the conversations as open-ended as possible around the very generic questions “What makes dance work in Baltimore?” “What does Baltimore need to make dance work?” The answers usually spiral wonderfully (especially if there’s a nice diverse group of people around the table) into very specific, shared challenges.

This place ( is an extension of these conversations.

Finding available resources is a recurring challenge that comes up in these conversations. But, we have technology. To that end, if I can call this the “official launch” for this site, over on the side, you will find links to 38 places to perform (from 40 to 2500+ seats), 32 studios you can rent (to practice, rehearse, learn, or… dance), 10 organizations in the region that support dance to some degree, and 116 places to learn dance (6 of which will give you a degree, and several others that have multiple physical locations). I know these lists are incomplete (and they always will be), but if you know something I missed, down on the lower-right you’ll find a list of “tip” links to give me a clue. Please do. I need a lot of clues.

And there is movement (and potential movement) in the dance world for Baltimore. For now, to get a conversation going, I thought I’d mention a few huge (money) things that touch the dance world of Baltimore in some way. Maybe in ways you don’t expect. There’s a lot more, particularly down in the individual-dance-company level that I’d love to (and will) explore, but I don’t want to get too far into the weeds right off the bat.

About two years ago, the second phase of the Performing Arts and Humanities building at UMBC opened, with their Dance Cube (a 3500 square foot space made for dance), a Dance Technology Center (2400 square feet with fun technology), the Proscenium Theatre (250 seats), and a couple dance studio spaces.

Less than a year ago, Motor House opened, with a new performance space. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for all dance, since there’s relatively low steel beam situation in the ceiling and a dance-brutal concrete floor, so the vertically- and impact-oriented among you are kinda left out on this one.

Today, work progresses on City Arts 2 will include dance studio space but is mostly artist-oriented living space. That’s a huge deal for dancers that need to live on a dancer budget. City Arts 2 should open in a few months.

Also in that neighborhood, pay attention to OpenWorks, because this massive ($10 million) makerspace will give the dancers of Baltimore unprecedented access to tools and technologies for just the cost of a monthly membership, and they have a textile studio, so costuming (along with electronics, 3D printing, laser cutters, and wood and metal shops) is coming to Station North.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank as committed $5 million to renovate and expand the recreation center at 1100 East Fayette (what is now the Carmelo Anthony Youth Center), which will include a “dance and yoga space.” There’s also a good chance (but not a lot of detail) that dance can figure into the massive Port Covington project. And I do mean massive – this is one of the, if not the largest urban development projects in the country. There’s already a makerspace with a textile studio in that neighborhood (Foundery). Massive it is, and comes with drama. I haven’t even tried to navigate that drama, but there is a great opportunity to engage this project to serve the Baltimore dance community in some capacity. That does take some organization on the part of the dancers of Baltimore.

The city is also engaged, to some degree. In July 2015, we got a city-wide plan to upgrade and expand recreation centers (becoming “Fitness and Wellness Centers”). Particularly interesting in that general initiative is the planned expansion of the Cahill Performing Arts Center to 32,000 square feet. Unfortunately, information on the “recreation industry” tends to lump things like “folk dancing” and “jazzercise” into the same “fitness and wellness” category. Likewise, the scope of “arts and culture” ranges from dance performance to cooking lessons. With millions of dollars flowing into neighborhoods around the city, bending just a bit of that toward dance (your dance) is a real opportunity. What this means for dance in Baltimore is that these facilities will come on-line over the next several years (there are outstanding issues about funding), so there is time to influence some of the details. At the very least, some of you may want to teach in these new places. Again, organization matters. What does dance need?

I’ve said a lot, but ultimately what I want to say is that there is a very special moment happening in Baltimore right now that could change a lot of things for people that dance in this city.

I offer you this place to help make that happen.

If you’d like to contribute to this site, please get in touch. If you’d like to contribute off-line, please get in touch. There’s a general contact form available in the lower-right corner.

If you’d like to sit down and talk about some of these things, I’ll be doing that all summer. After that, I’m going to buckle down and get to work on the good stuff.

Welcome to this adventure.