Pilot Program for African American Inclusion

Message from Artistic Director Stanton Welch AM:

"It is with great pride that I am a part of the Artistic Directors Coalition for Ballet in America – Pilot Program for African American Inclusion. As leaders of our organizations, we banded together in April 2020 to bring meaningful change to our art form. We are committed to addressing inequities and inclusion, and our first initiative is to launch programs geared towards opening our doors to young BIPOC dancers. Through these events, we hope they will get to know our organizations and be able to picture themselves in this career. I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop more opportunities to make ballet a diverse and inclusive art form."

About the Artistic Directors Coalition for Ballet in America – Pilot Program for African American Inclusion

2020 was a year like no other. In spring, the devastating murder of George Floyd ushered in a moment of reckoning that led to an international outcry to reevaluate the ongoing problems with racial equity and civil rights our world continues to face. As a response, a group of leaders in the classical ballet and dance fields assembled to discuss and address how we could affect change in our art form. Since June 2020, we turned a critical lens inward on our organizations to evaluate our practices and policies, to brainstorm and share and to listen and learn from one another. In our highly competitive art form, it is unique for ballet leadership to gather collectively on such a regular basis, but, over time, our commitment to creating impactful change was cemented and our group grew as our discussions deepened and expanded. What became clear was that our art form, born of imperial courts of Europe, needs an overhaul if it is to move further into the 21st Century. We come together as a collective to initiate change and to foster greater trust in how our organizations are run. The exquisite beauty of ballet must be relevant if we are to survive. This will require a vision that is more inclusive and capable of acknowledging and respective of the diversity of human culture. This group of artistic leaders are all committed to building broader diversity and greater equity. As we work in our own organizations to address any inequities, we agree that a first step is to open opportunities at the educational level. Our mission is to foster trust in our organizations and embrace a broader vision of cultural inclusion in classical ballet.

The companies in this coalition have agreed to participate in this initial pilot program by creating opportunities specifically for young and aspiring African American and dancers of color to feel welcomed into our organizations with #BalletOpenHouse. 

Each of our companies will create free two-hour virtual visits to explore and experience the vision, culture, community, and artistic philosophy within each company. In this time of COVID 19, virtual visits present an interactive opportunity to look inside the unique environment of each organization. The two-hour virtual experience may include:

  • A chance for young artists, their families and teachers to virtually visit the organization’s facilities
  • An online, live ballet or repertory class with the Company’s leadership and artists to experience each organization’s unique style and approach  
  • The opportunity to be seen, to be heard and be assessed dancing in class   
  • The opportunity to learn and be coached in company repertoire by the artistic directors, rehearsal directors or company members  
  • The chance to interact with and ask questions of the organization’s students, professional performers, production team and administrators   

This initiative is the first in a number of action steps and reforms we will implement over time to move ballet forward and truly become an art form for everyone.

Thank you on behalf of the inaugural group of individuals and companies launching Artistic Directors Coalition for Ballet in America – Pilot Program for African American Inclusion.

Kyle Abraham, Artistic Director, A.I.M
Lauren Anderson, Associate Director, Education & Community Engagement, Houston Ballet
Peter Boal, Artistic Director, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Nigel Campbell, Company Director, Gibney Company
Jodie Gates, Founding Director, USC Kaufman. Artistic Director, Laguna Dance Festival
Christina Johnson, Artist, Instructor, and Coach
Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem
Julie Kent, Artistic Director, The Washington Ballet
Edwaard Liang, Artistic Director, Ballet Met
Lourdes Lopez, Artistic Director, Miami City Ballet
Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director, Boston Ballet
Desmond Richardson, Artistic Director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Dwight Rhoden, Artistic Director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Adam Sklute, Artistic Director, Ballet West
Jonathan Stafford, Artistic Director, New York City Ballet
Helgi Thomasson, Artistic Director, San Francisco Ballet
Denise Saunders Thompson, President and CEO, The International Association of Blacks in Dance
Stanton Welch, Artistic Director, Houston Ballet
Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director, Joffrey Ballet
Wendy Whelan, Associate Artistic Director, New York City Ballet