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Thank You For Dancing! Brenda and Ariel

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Ariel Luckey and Brenda Way

As we pass the halfway mark for our Arts & Civic Engagement Fellowship, which began in September, we’d like to share an update with our community about the exceptional work being done by BKF Mentor Brenda Way, Founder and Artistic Director of ODC Dance, alongside Ariel Luckey: playwright, poet, actor, and activist—and Brenda’s BKF Fellow.

As the arts become increasing threated by the defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts and a politico-cultural atmosphere that devalues the role of beauty, curiosity, and the free exploration of complex ideas that is vital to a functioning society, we’d like to encourage the BKF community to lift up the arts. We hope that as you read about the work of Brenda and Ariel you’ll be reminded of the ways in which the arts have enriched your life and be moved to act.

Brenda and Ariel share something special in common: they are both artists and arts administrators. Either one of these vocations is challenging in its own right, so it’s quite unusual to find two people with these twin passions and who can do both equally well. Brenda is not only is the Artistic Director of ODC, a role in which she creates world-class contemporary dance, she also directs ODC as an institution and is well known for her visionary executive leadership. ODC’s campus stands in part as a monument to Brenda’s administrative excellence: she led the ambitious fundraising campaign that enabled the organization to purchase the site in 1979 on which ODC now stands.

Like Brenda, Ariel is multi-talented: he has created and toured several popular solo plays and developed accompanying social justice curricula in order to extend the impact of the arts to the classroom. He is also grounded in arts administration, having held leadership positions in several Bay Area arts organizations. As his fellowship year unfolds, Ariel is using his time with Brenda to help develop his institution-building skills in service of his dream: to launch an arts organization that would develop young playwrights in diverse communities.

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Serra Simbeck, BKF Chair; Lew Butler, BKF Founder; Brenda Way, BKF Mentor; Ariel Luckey, BKF Fellow

We are following Brenda and Ariel on their artistic adventure as they begin planning a multi-year celebration for ODC’s 50th anniversary (2021). Given Ariel’s gift for storytelling, Brenda has encouraged him to focus on creating a four year plan to excavate, frame, communicate, and celebrate ODC’s artistic and civic accomplishments as the institution looks towards (and beyond) 2021.  The 50th anniversary is an inflection point for ODC and its leadership: an important time to reflect on its historical accomplishments and to envision its future.

We are excited to hear from them about how this fellowship is impacting their work so far:

“Being a BKF Mentor has turned out to be such a wonderful opportunity! Thanks to the philanthropic community who made this fellowship possible, especially Christine Elbel (Fleishhacker Foundation), Margot Melcon (Zellerbach Family Foundation), and Frances Phillips (Walter & Elise Haas Fund)—three phenomenal women who have had a huge impact on the arts in the Bay Area. And of course Kate Brumage (Butler Koshland Fellowships), the master of matching! With Ariel’s initiative and leadership, ODC has launched an archive effort that never would have happened without him. In preparation for our upcoming 50th anniversary, he is tracking and thereby establishing the legacy of the company. One of the significant upshots of his work has been to focus the eyes of the board of trustees, the staff and the broader community on the long and generative history of the company. And what a joy to connect the BKF and ODC communities  – in relationships that will surely thrive going forward. Many thanks to all!
–Brenda Way, Founder and Artistic Director, ODC, and BKF Mentor

“Working with Brenda is a steady instruction in excellence. Dance maven, master administrator and innovator, she sets the standard high and inspires us all to meet it. I am so grateful to everyone who made this opportunity possible, to ODC’s brilliant staff and dedicated Board and to the vibrant community of dancers that enrich life in the Bay Area.”
–Ariel Luckey, Archivist and Story Architect, ODC, and BKF Fellow

ODC’s 50th anniversary is of additional strategic importance: the materials Ariel develops through his study and celebration of this important milestone will be used to inform and support a capital campaign. ODC is in the initial stages of a $14,000,000 fundraising campaign that will generate a $10,000,000 permanent endowment and a $4,000,000 10-year spend down fund for artistic and entrepreneurial projects.

During this process, Ariel is helping ODC’s leadership team to bring shape to the big questions concerning ODC’s legacy and its powerful future applications. Potential areas of inquiry are:

  • What are the unique artistic contributions ODC has made to its field? To the cultural fabric of the Bay Area?
  • How is ODC in dialogue with the arts at a national level? An international level? How can ODC’s work help inform and strengthen the work of other arts organizations?
  • In what ways is ODC a model art-making institution? A model for arts-based civic engagement? What have been its greatest successes? What are its most promising new initiatives?
  • As the demographics of the Bay Area continue to shift, what role should ODC play in engaging new audiences? In making the case that the arts are an integral part of civic engagement here in the Bay Area and beyond? How could it best lead such efforts?

While thinking deeply on these big institutional questions, Brenda has also continued to create and produce artistic work and has allowed Ariel rare access to her creative process. Both Brenda and Ariel have been enthusiastic BKF community members and have generously shared their work with us too. In February, Brenda and Ariel generously gave us an inside perspective on dancemaking, inviting BKF staff, Advisory Committee members, and foundation funders for a tour of ODC’s campus followed by an on-site work-in-progress performance of a new work, choreographed by Brenda and performed by ODC’s company, called What we carry What we keep.

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Advisory Committee and Friends at Field Trip. L to R: Margot Melcon (ZFF’s Program Executive for Promoting Culture); Marty Krasney (BKF Advisory Committee); Ariel Lucky (BKF Fellow); Kate Brumage (BKF Executive Director); Lew Butler (BKF Advisory Committee); Gnöngy Laky (Artist); Tom Layton (BKF Advisory Committee); Bob Friedman (BKF Advisory Committee); Gonzalo Jimenez (Social Entrepreneur); Irma Herrera (BKF Advisory Committee); Mark Levine (Lawrence Berkeley Nsl Lab)

We now celebrate with Brenda this week as What we carry What we keep debuts in San Francisco at Yerba Buena Center for Performing Arts March 30 and runs through April 2. On March 31, Brenda will give a pre-performance talk and we hope to see you there. Go here for tickets. Merde, Brenda!


Beyond attending this performance, there are many ways to get involved with the arts and with this fellowship in particular. We will continue to stay in touch with you about Brenda and Ariel. And in the meantime, we encourage you to reach out to us if you’d like to connect with Brenda and Ariel or any of our other mentor/fellow pairs.

More than any other endeavor, the arts let us enter into complex issues with speed, grace, and precision. Here are a few ideas s for supporting the arts and the creativity on which our society depends:

  • Participate as an audience member—buy tickets and attend performances; give to or volunteer with organizations that support the creation of art; share your resources with individual artists; express gratitude to foundations that fund the arts, letting them know what it has meant to you personally to experience a work they made possible.
  • Help to create the next generation of art lovers—if you have young family members, incorporate arts into their lives; provide funding for school groups to visit museums and attend performances, and support programs that provide artistic training and appreciation programs for young people.
  • Be vocal about the importance of the art in your community—stay civically engaged by expressing your views on the value of art to business, political, and community leaders.

For our part, we express our gratitude to the generous foundations that funded this fellowship: Zellerbach Family Foundation and Fleishhacker Foundation. We would also like to thank the Hellman Foundation and the Walter & Elise Haas Fund for providing operational support for this project. And as always, to acknowledge BKF’s many individual donors whose commitment to next generation leadership inspires all that we do.  Thank you!

In creating and funding this fellowship, we learned much about just how dedicated and philanthropic those professionals are who have dedicated their careers to supporting the arts. We are so pleased to be able to share the perspectives of three of them here: Christine Elbel, Executive Director, Fleishhacker Foundation; Margot Melcon, Program Executive, Zellerbach Family Foundation; and Frances Phillips, Program Director, Arts and The Creative Work Fund, Walter & Elise Haas Fund.

“Brenda Way’s seminal work has greatly enhanced and fueled the growth of the modern dance field in the United States.  She is a prodigious talent, a proven leader, and a local treasure.  Her repertoire of groundbreaking choreography alone is significant.  In addition to co-founding and creating work for ODC/Dance, she has also made a long-term contribution to the dance community through providing rehearsal and performance space, a dance school, and mentoring.  It’s fitting that she was selected to participate in the prestigious Butler Koshland Fellowship, and I’m sure great things will come from her work with her Fellow in the coming year.”
–Christine Elbel, Executive Director, Fleishhacker Foundation, San Francisco

“Nurturing and preparing the next generation of leadership is an essential part of keeping the arts community in the Bay Area thriving, and there is no better resource than the extraordinary Brenda Way to share the experience, knowledge and vision she has brought to ODC for the past 40+ years. Our relationship with Brenda includes her many years of service on our Community Arts panel, as well as a long relationship with ODC as a grantee. We believe Ariel comes equipped with the skills and background to take full advantage of this fellowship with Brenda, and look forward to his continuing creative career and promising future as an arts administrator.”
–Margot Melcon, Program Executive, Zellerbach Family Foundation

“Working as an arts leader can be isolating, and one of the most important things an arts professional can learn to do is to seek appropriate guidance and mentorship along the way. I’m thrilled that the talented young performer Ariel Luckey will be mentored by one of the Bay Area’s shrewdest and most creative arts leaders, Brenda Way. Way’s contributions to building a community and facilities and new works to advance dance and performance are immense. It’s brilliant that the Butler Koshland Fellowships program has coaxed her into sharing the grit and vision behind her successes with another artist who brings his own distinctive strengths and experiences to their exchange.”
–Frances Phillips, Program Director, Arts and The Creative Work Fund, Walter & Elise Haas Fund

On behalf of everyone at Butler Koshland Fellowships, we acknowledge all those art supporters and art makers for enriching our lives and for making the Bay Area so vibrant, especially to Brenda and Ariel, to whom we express our deepest gratitude—thank you for dancing!

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Brenda holds a posting from ODC’s gratitude wall