Interior designer creates giving circle to save dance company


A dress rehearsal of Dana Tai Soon Burgess’s dance company. (Susan Biddle/For The Washington Post)
January 1, 2012

Last November, after a long day of meetings, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, founder of a modern dance company in the District, opened a letter with disappointing news.

The District’s Commission on Arts and Humanities informed him that it was unable to provide his organization with a grant this year. This was among a series of letters he’d received from foundations, which were forced to redirect their dwindling funds from arts groups toward human services organizations.

The decision put Burgess’s studio $51,000 in the red during that quarter — an amount that represented a fifth of its annual budget.

Burgess found out just before heading to a rehearsal that night for the company’s upcoming 20th anniversary spring show, now jeopardized by the funding cuts. He also had to consider shortening or terminating dancers’ contracts and giving up its rental space.

“I just sat there for a couple hours after my heart palpitations passed and then I thought, ‘Who would care enough about dance and the performing arts to help?’” Burgess said.


Dana Tai Soon Burgess’s dance company performing the 2009 work “Island” at George Washington University’s Marvin Theatre earlier this year. (Susan Biddle/For The Washington Post)

At the top of his list was Jane Cafritz, interior designer and founder of Jane R. Cafritz Antiques and Interiors in D.C.

A lover of the arts and a Washington Ballet donor, she had been a regular supporter of Burgess’s studio after seeing a show 10 years ago.

When she received his e-mail, “there was no question in my mind whether or not to help,” said Cafritz, who also called on an old friend, Georgiana Warner, to join in the challenge.

The three of them brainstormed ways to raise funds on a time crunch.

They began mailing letters and making phone calls to people familiar with the dance company, asking for gifts above $2,000.

“It’s so hard to ask because people get asked by so many organizations, but this was an emergency situation. We told them, ‘You know Dana, and love his work. Can you help us out?’” Cafritz said.

Within weeks, pledges were made. Checks sent. And the giving circle was born.

In less than a month, the group raised $50,000, covering expenses into 2012.

“The giving circle completely saved our spring and fall season,” Burgess said.

Burgess and his staff are now looking to use the giving circle to reach individual givers as government and foundation resources dry up.

“This is a really wonderful start, at a very important juncture at our company turning 20, to turn to this direction to look for individual supporters that we haven’t reached out to at this level,” Burgess said.

The spring concert is set for April.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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