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Ragamala Dance Company Selected for National Arts Initiative Funded by The Wallace Foundation

June 8, 2022 - June 30, 2022

Ragamala Dance Company (Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, Artistic Directors) has been selected to participate in the first phase of The Wallace Foundation’s new five-year arts initiative focused on arts organizations of color, created as part of the foundation’s efforts to foster equitable improvements in the arts. Following an open call in 2021 that drew over 250 applicants, Ragamala Dance Company was selected as one of 18 nonprofit organizations representing a diverse range of artistic disciplines, geographic locations, and communities served. Alongside the other selected organizations, Ragamala Dance Company will receive five years of funding to develop and pursue a project to address a strategic challenge. Researchers will document each organization’s work with the aim of developing useful insights about the relationship between community orientation, resilience, and relevance.

“It is an honor to be selected for this inspiring new initiative, and to be among so many other organizations doing vital work in the arts community,” said Aparna Ramaswamy, Ragamala Dance Company. “We look forward to building a robust partnership with The Wallace Foundation and entering these next five years of innovation and development. During this time, we will further our commitment to the cultivation of the next generation of South Asian artist thinkers and leaders, evolving systems to include them during every stage of the artistic process: from commissioners and funders to choreographers and designers. Through this process, we will extensively document our artistic, organizational, and research-based advocacy work to serve as a case study for future generations.”

Originally announced in July 2021 as a $53 million endeavor involving about a dozen organizations, Wallace has expanded the initiative to include additional grantees and planned funding of up to $100 million across five years. While Wallace’s support will not eliminate the need for the other funding that sustains Ragamala Dance Company and the other grantee organizations, it does help provide the time and resources to explore new approaches to urgent challenges, including: succession planning; developing equity-centered practices; developing values-aligned business models; increasing visibility; and creating cultural spaces that nurture the creativity and well-being of artists and communities served. 

First, Ragamala Dance Company’s Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy will embark alongside the other grantees on a planning year for their individual projects in partnership with Wallace, researchers, consultants, and financial management advisers. While the specifics of each organization’s projects are unique, there are some commonalities and opportunities for shared learning and support. Grantees will work with Wallace to name the initiative and identify any technical supports they might need before beginning four years of project implementation.

The Community Orientation Action Research Team (COART), made up of researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Virginia, has been funded to co-develop the initiative’s research design with the grantees. The research is expected to explore the initiative’s guiding question through the lens of the projects that grantees will implement over four years. Additionally, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is overseeing a fellowship program for 18 early career qualitative researchers, one of whom will be paired with Ragamala Dance Company to develop an ethnography that documents the organization’s history, practices, and culture. 

Complete list of participating organizations: 

1Hood Media (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, Mich.)
BlackStar (Philadelphia, Pa.) 
Chicago Sinfonietta (Chicago, Ill.)
EastSide Arts Alliance, Black Cultural Zone, and Artist As First Responder (Oakland, Calif.) 
Esperanza Peace and Justice Center (San Antonio, Texas) 
Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture (Charlotte, N.C.) 
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
PHILADANCO! The Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Pillsbury House + Theatre (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (Manhattan and Bronx, N.Y.)
Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (San Francisco, Calif.)
Ragamala Dance Company (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Rebuild Foundation (Chicago, Ill.)
Self Help Graphics & Art (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Theater Mu (Saint Paul, Minn.)
The Laundromat Project (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The Union for Contemporary Art (Omaha, Neb.)

The initiative builds on research going back to the 1970s suggesting that community orientation, along with high-quality artistic programming, may be foundational to organizational health. Community orientation has been described, across the literature, as preserving or presenting the artforms of a particular racial, ethnic, or tribal group, supporting artists from the focus community, developing the cultural workforce of that community, and advocating for the community within broader socio-political contexts, among other activities. In addition to building understanding of what community orientation looks like in different organizations, Wallace hopes to learn with the organizations how they define relevance and resilience. For more information, please visit https://www.wallacefoundation.org/news-and-media/press-releases/pages/eighteen-arts-organizations-communities-of-color-selected-for-national-arts-initiative-the-wallace-foundation.aspx.

About the grantee selection process
To select the first group of grantees, Wallace considered applications submitted from organizations across the visual and performing arts fields, media arts, and community-based organizations focused on artistic practice with budget sizes between $500,000 and $5 million. The foundation sought to create a group of funded organizations serving a variety of communities, focusing on projects that leverage community orientation and addressing different kinds of strategic challenges. 

Ragamala Dance Company is the vision of award-winning mother/daughter artists Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy. Over the last four decades, Ranee and Aparna’s practice in the South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam has shifted the trajectory of culturally rooted performing arts in the United States to create an exemplary company within the American dance landscape. Through both intimate solos and large-scale theatrical works for the stage, Ranee and Aparna empower the South Asian American experience. By engaging the dynamic tension between ancestral wisdom and creative freedom, they reveal the kindred relationship between ancient and contemporary that is urgently needed in today’s world.
Featuring Aparna Ramaswamy as Principal Dancer, Ragamala has been commissioned and presented extensively throughout the U.S., India, and abroad, highlighted by the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Joyce Theater (New York), Lincoln Center (New York), Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (MA), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), American Dance Festival (Durham, NC), The Soraya (Southern California), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, International Festival of Arts & Ideas (New Haven, CT), Cal Performances (Berkeley), Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), Just Festival (Edinburgh, U.K.), Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia), Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai, India), and National Centre for Performing Arts (Mumbai, India), among others. ragamaladance.org.

The Wallace Foundation’s mission is to foster equity and improvements in learning and enrichment for young people, and in the arts for everyone. Wallace works nationally, with a focus on the arts, K-12 education leadership and youth development. In all of its work, Wallace seeks to benefit both its direct grantees as well as the fields in which it works by developing and broadly sharing relevant, useful knowledge that can improve practice and policy. For more information, please visit the Foundation’s Knowledge Center at wallacefoundation.org. 


June 8, 2022
June 30, 2022