January 17, 2014

Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey receives $375,000 grant

The largest grant in its history — $375,000 — from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation will help fund an arts festival at 18th and Vine and a series of symposiums focused on diversity in the arts.

The Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, a respected nonprofit arts organization that this year will celebrate its 30th anniversary, now has a $375,000 grant to implement a strategic plan that includes an arts festival at 18th and Vine and a series of annual symposiums focused on diversity in the arts.

The grant from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation is the largest in Alvin Ailey’s history. Tyrone Aiken, the group’s executive director, called it a milestone. The grant and the programs it will fund were announced Friday morning.

“We are very committed to Kansas City,” Aiken said. “We want our organization to have a voice. We want to start a conversation about race, diversity, community and place. The symposiums are an opportunity to bring in national and international artists to have discussions about that.”

The Friends of Alvin Ailey was founded in 1984 as a support organization whose mission includes sponsoring annual local performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater or its junior company, Ailey II. It also hosts dance camps for young people.

The group’s mission includes making dance accessible to all people, teaching young people “critical life skills” through dance and “modeling interracial and multicultural community partnerships.”

To chart the organization’s future, its leaders engaged nationally known arts management consultant Michael Kaiser, who created a five-year strategic plan to position the group as a national model “for bridging racial and cultural differences.” Kaiser’s fee was covered by a separate grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., was executive director of the Kansas City Ballet in the 1980s.

Ailey founded his dance company in 1958 and became recognized as one of the premier American choreographers. A few years before his death in 1989, Ailey was in Kansas City and visited the 18th and Vine area, which sparked an idea that would grow into the Friends of Alvin Ailey as a way of reaching young people and establishing a second home for the company.

“I founded the organization as a result of my meeting Alvin in 1982, when the company visited Kansas City and performed at the newly opened Folly Theater,” said Allan Gray, the group’s first president. “Meeting Alvin afforded me an opportunity to hear firsthand his vision for dance and communities. … I watched Alvin interact with (young people) and take the time to say what his personal mission in life was — to bring dance back to the people, to take it out of the theaters and bring it back to the lives and hearts and minds of people who needed it most.”

Gray said the first symposium could take place as early as next fall. The festival, an outgrowth of the organization’s annual block party, would kick off in 2015. Gray and Aiken said they intend the festival to be a collaborative venture, involving a range of arts organizations.

The Kauffman Foundation gift is a “challenge grant” that the Friends of Alvin Ailey will receive in five annual payments. The organization is responsible for matching it through “new or increased gifts,” according to Aiken.

That translates into a $750,000 bump for the group, which has an annual budget that Aiken said ranges between $900,000 and $1.3 million.

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