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BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE IN A TIME OF UNCERTAINTY

 In Non-Profit

Richard Cowden, Executive Director

It’s no understatement to note that the year between March 2020 and March 2021 has been the most challenging in the history of Colorado Conservatory of Dance, much as it has been for virtually every arts and cultural organization in America—and across the world. The closure of studios due to gathering-size restrictions and the shuttering of performance venues both large and small have resulted in crippling losses of earned income, decreased grant opportunities for nonprofits, and perhaps most heartbreakingly the scattering of stakeholders as we pivoted to full- and hybrid-based instruction that kept our dancers away from their home base at CCD. Indeed, we have watched with deep sadness as hundreds of organizations not unlike ours across the country have simply been unable to survive these challenges and have closed their doors forever.

At CCD, however, we decided immediately upon the March 2020 lockdown that if we were going to go down, it wouldn’t be without a fight. As a staff, faculty, and board of directors we held emergency meetings with one item on the agenda—transforming CCD’s operational structure comprehensively and immediately in order to maintain our ability to provide a spectrum of services (and associated revenues) for as long as the pandemic affected our society. In order to achieve this, we had to essentially forget everything we knew about how to run a successful nonprofit dance organization and leverage the team’s innate creativity, passion, and tenacity in order to build while so many of our partner companies crumbled.

I would note here, of great importance, that CCD benefitted from a rock-solid infrastructure of community support, without which we would never have been able to weather this storm—from donations of technology to monetary contributions through our fundraising efforts, these stakeholders provided a scaffolding of support upon which we could build our “new normal.” This, plus a little good luck, likely kept us on the solvent side of the pandemic’s economic razor’s edge while other organizations faced even more severe conditions that rendered them powerless to continue their operations.

One aspect of the move to a wholly new way of delivering dance to our community that we kept at the forefront of our decision making was that we needed to embrace the certainty of uncertainty—that is, we had no way of knowing how long the pandemic would last, how profound the lockdowns would be, or what the response of our community would be to the societal devastation we felt sure was to come. In this way, we stumbled upon a theme of singular importance: we would prepare as if we would be forever—not temporarily—altered by the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Rather than assuming a shutdown of a few weeks, we built systems that would not only help us continue operating for months or even years, but also allow us to actually continue to build our business permanently. We invested in videoconferencing technology that transformed our studios into spaces in which we could “Zoom in” renowned instructors from around the globe at a moment’s notice. We deconstructed the traditional studio walls and created a virtual world in which an instructor in Sweden could teach from his living room to students in person at CCD and others from across the country. Becoming video editors, cinematographers, and live streaming experts, CCD staff refused to let closed performance venues disrupt our performance schedule, and we reached audience members around the world instead of around the city. And we took profound and lasting lessons from the social upheaval resulting from Black Lives Matter and other protest movements around the country, and used the time as an opportunity to address our own commitment to social and racial justice across the entire organization.

These and numerous other adjustments not only gave us a way to keep dancing, but they gave us hope. We found strength in each other, and the entire CCD community came together in its sheer defiance of the pandemic’s attempt to drive us out of existence. Our collective mantra became “just…keep…moving…forward”, and in doing so we have discovered that despite a return to some semblance of normalcy—whenever that happens—we not only stayed alive, but we did so in a way that will forever alter the way we approach our mission—to unleash individual potential and invigorate community through dance.

Finally, it would be irresponsible of me and the staff, faculty, and board of directors not to thank our stakeholders directly. Again, were it not for your steadfast support and belief in us, I can’t say with any certainty that we’d still be here a year later. For this, we are eternally and profoundly grateful.

Just. Keep. Moving. Forward.

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