|Kelly Roth. Photo by Jeff Speer|
The annual Dance in the Desert Festival, now in its 14th year, happens this weekend. As it has every year, the festival will present a broad variety of dance artists and companies representing many dance disciplines and choreographic visions. Festival director Kelly Roth, of the CSN dance department, and Kyla Quintero cofounded the ambitious festival, and each year, the event has attracted quality performers and companies from throughout the country. But this year, the festival learned two weeks before opening night that their expected funding had been completely cut by CSN officials.
When and how were you notified that the funding for this year’s Dance in the Desert Festival had been cut?
Kelly Roth: On July 14, my associate director, Leslie Roth, and I were called to a meeting with the dean of the School of Arts and Letters and the chairman of the Fine Arts Department — two weeks before the festival. We were chastised for beginning work in January 2012 (without assurance of funding) on an event scheduled for the following July. As funding for the event historically was given at the beginning of each fiscal year in July (the month of the actual event), we had no indication that this year would be different.
The administration approved the publishing of the performing arts brochures, which were distributed last January. The brochures advertised, among other things, Dance in the Desert Festival 2012. Also, the dates for the Festival and the reservation of the theater were cleared the previous semester — in 2011. That’s the way it has always been done, as theaters need to be booked far ahead of time.
Did they give any explanation as to why the late notice or how existing financial commitments were to be met?
Since I’ve been told to “own” this, I must accept credit for some of the funding problems. The administration assumed that when we didn’t receive our usual funding from the Nevada Arts Council (NAC) this year, we would cancel the festival. They offered no concrete solutions or suggestions.
Our usual NAC grant provided one-fourth of actual production costs and is tied to matching funds, minus those provided by state agencies like the College of Southern Nevada. Also, the Friends of the Horn Theatre have been generous with matching funds, and we have been allowed to keep the box office receipts. Unpaid festival expenses historically have been charged to our annual college dance production budget.
What was your response?
Cancellation was unthinkable to us. The artists invited spend months in preparation, so canceling the festival would invalidate thousands of hours of groundwork and thousands of dollars. And then there is the demoralizing effect on the dance community. The festival has a loyal base that anticipates this annual gathering of the kinetic clans.
We told the administration that the festival must go on. They were shocked that we couldn’t see their reasoning.
Is the festival going to happen this year as planned? What about the future?
Well, the show must go on. Through the donated services by lighting designer Jody Caley, graphics/video/program designers Elaine and Jeremiah Johnson, and associate director Leslie Roth, among others, we are pushing through this crisis. As to the future, the festival is too unique, too loved by dancers and audience alike, to let die. However, we might have to take on all costs without CSN’s direct support, possibly by forming an outside nonprofit organization.
I understand CSN feels the need to quantify expenditures. Nevertheless, we were unprepared for the administration’s cavalier attitude toward arts funding, especially this festival.
How is the festival planning to replace the lost funds for this year?
Rats, cockroaches and dancers crawl out from under the nuclear rubble to re-create the world. We launched several initiatives: a yard sale; received donated salaries by key personnel; renegotiated hotel room rates; minimized printed program size; fan-donated rooms to house visiting dancers; eliminated post-performance receptions — and the use of my personal credit card. Additionally, the college has allowed us to use the theater at a reduced cost.
New for us: We are using Indiegogo, an Internet fundraising site. Our modest grassroots approach is starting to yield some results. God bless the folks!
For more on the festival’s Indiegogo account, check www.indiegogo.com/projects/174227?a=884817
[Originally published at Las Vegas City Life, July 25, 2012.]