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Creating a New Organization: From Concept to Implementation

Angela Harris

My name is Angela Harris, and I am the executive director of Dance Canvas, an Atlanta-based dance organization, which I founded four years ago. My first blog entry is chronicling the start of my organization, and the lessons learned along the way:

#1: FILL A NEED: In 2007, I was planning to leave my career as a professional ballet dancer, and begin to focus on choreography. As I explored choreography, I encountered barrier after barrier: I didn’t have a reel of work; I had only choreographed on pre-professionals; and I was not being taken seriously as a choreographer, only a performer.

I realized that I would need to produce my own work, and while researching how to do so, I met many other dancer/choreographers in my same position. I began to conceptualize a choreography company that was devoted to developing and presenting work of emerging choreographers. I was excited about the idea, and bounced it off of many colleagues. Yet, amongst the arts administrators that heard my concept, the overwhelming sentiment was that I should not start a nonprofit in the economic/funding climate at the time.

#2: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS: It was a leap of faith to start a dance nonprofit in a community, such as Atlanta, that didn’t have a strong support/funding stream for dance. I had a decision to make. I went to college in NYC and had the choice between staying in Atlanta to develop this rough idea that I had, or move back to New York and continue to perform.

#3: PASSION IS NOT ENOUGH: My desire to choreograph, and a little stubbornness of not taking “no” for an answer, led me to my decision to stay and create Dance Canvas. However, passion will only take you so far if you do not have the tools and building blocks to create a stable foundation. During my last year of performing, I took every opportunity to develop my business skills.

I served as Development Director for The Georgia Ballet; I was the Ballet Director of a local studio which had a student base of 600; I created a curriculum for the City of Atlanta and Usher’s New Look Foundation. I began to feel confident in my abilities to design programs, find funding, and produce work of high artistic quality.

#4: SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GREAT PEOPLE: Once I felt secure enough in my own vision, I formed a group of advisors to help motivate and keep me moving in the right direction. I asked a friend and fellow choreographer to be my “right hand” to help with getting a show produced. I enlisted insight from a business consultant, who picked apart my business plan, and helped me to streamline my mission. I selected eight exceptionally talented choreographers to be the first artists to premier in our inaugural performance.

On September 5th, 2008, I saw my vision, my leap of faith, my concept come to life. We performed for sold-out crowds and it was the start of a four-year adventure into innovation, leadership, and challenges.

I am looking forward to sharing more in upcoming blogs.

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