For Dancers, Alternative Funding Model Replacing Non-Profits?

The barriers to starting a non-profit dance company in New York City are breaking down, according to a new study published by Dance/NYC, the service organization for the dance industry in New York.

Discovering Fiscally Sponsored Dancemakers,” published Sept. 7, suggests that a funding method called “fiscal sponsorship” is overtaking the traditional non-profit model for dance organizations in the city. The majority of the city’s dancemakers now operate without their own non-profit status, instead opting for protection under the umbrella of a larger public charity.

Dance/NYC collected data from more than 250 New York City-based dance companies sponsored by five institutions, including Pentacle, Fractured Atlas, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York Live Arts, and The Field, for this report.

Through fiscal sponsorship, these established non-profit arts organizations can provide funding and infrastructure for projects created by independent companies that do not have their own 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. The arrangement guarantees artistic autonomy for creators of new work; the sponsor takes over all administrative, financial, and legal responsibilities related to fundraising.

Companies with small budgets are therefore able to use their limited resources more efficiently, rather than spending time and money achieving non-profit status. According to Dance/NYC Director Lane Harwell, sponsored dancemakers devote 83 percent of expenditures to programming and artists, as opposed to 74 percent for “the smallest non-profits.”

“At the roundtable convened by Dance/NYC in connection with this study, the administrators of the five participating fiscal sponsorship programs provided helpful insights on the role of fiscal sponsorship within the larger NYC dance field,” Ian David Moss and Carrie Blake wrote as part of Dance/NYC’s analysis. “They hypothesized that fiscal sponsorship programs represent a unique point of entry for dancemakers who are seeking new models and systems to support their creative endeavors. Fiscal sponsors are providing a set of services and resources that support dancemakers in entrepreneurial activities, allowing them to focus more on creating new work and less on infrastructure… Fiscal sponsors are advocates for their artists and may be facilitating public activity that may otherwise fail to take place.”

The Wall Street Journal noted that the New York Foundation for the Arts has offered fiscal sponsorship since 1971, when the organization was founded. Although the concept is nothing new, start-up organizations are beginning to take better advantage of it, thanks in large part to the easy access provided by online innovations.

“This new report from Dance/NYC shows us how fiscally sponsored dancers and choreographers are working, and showing their creativity and resourcefulness, in the cultural ecology,” New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn said in a statement. “These artists are serving diverse communities in all five boroughs and strengthening our city’s role as a dance capital. By collaborating with The Field, Fractured Atlas, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York Live Arts, and Pentacle to tell the story of sponsored dancemakers, Dance/NYC is creating a model for discipline-specific arts research, and helping to guide policy, funding, and management practice.”

Read the full report here.

This study by Dance/NYC, a branch of Dance/USA, focused only on dancemakers and fiscal sponsors in New York. Dance New Jersey, the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance, and the Bay Area Dancers’ Group are just a few of the other fiscal sponsors that support dance in the U.S. For more, visit

“Discovering Fiscally Sponsored Dancemakers” is the third study published by Dance/NYC in the past year, following “State of NYC Dance” and the Dance/NYC Junior Committee’s “Dance Workforce Census: Earnings Among Individuals, Ages 21-35.”