SOUTH SHORE — Dancer Keisha Janae has adjusted to life without the stage and minimal teaching in the pandemic, though it’s been a challenge.
But thanks to a new grant-funded project, she will take the stage again in May — and get some much-needed financial security doing it.
Janae is one of 100 performers featured in a new virtual performance series called “Chicago Takes 10,” which includes pre-recorded shows of musicians, dancers and multi-disciplinary makers at 10 nonprofit art venues across the city.
Each venue received a $25,000 grant from the Walder Foundation to curate special performances with a carefully selected roster of talent that best represents their style and mission. The venues will use some of the $25,000 for operating costs like payroll, technological equipment, bills and updates to the space, and $1,000 goes to each artist.
“I’ve never had a cushion and or a savings account,” said Janae, a South Shore resident and a 2018 Columbia College Chicago graduate. “Going from paycheck to paycheck is not easy so this is going to be a cushion and that is what I need.”
The series kicks off Thursday and runs until mid-July with biweekly virtual shows streamed on YouTube at 6 p.m. that feature solo, duo and trio groups of 10 artists per performance.
Janae, whose dance style is a combination of West African, House, break dancing, modern, ballet and improv, will perform with soundscape musician Ben LaMar Gay on May 13. To view the full lineup of artists and performances at Links Hall and Constellation Performing Arts, visit the “Chicago Takes 10” website.
“I saw that performing artists were leaving the field or thinking about it [and] it wasn’t just because of the loss of income that was so painful but it was also the loss of visibility as an artist that was really painful,” said Elizabeth Walder, president and executive director of the Walder Foundation. “This program is to help artists regain their footing and momentum.”
The foundation, which has given to various COVID relief funds throughout the pandemic and helped start the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund, intentionally picked nonprofits who have ties to their communities, know how to put together a moving show and have strong relationships with local artists.
Instead of the grant model working as a lottery, like the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund, the “Chicago Takes 10” focused on artists whose practice has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, particularly nonwhite performers, said Meg Leary, an artist and the senior program director of performing Arts with the foundation.
“Not everyone has been equally impacted during the pandemic, BIPOC communities in particular, so the selection process was to make sure we target artists who have been unequally impacted” and who live from gig to gig, Leary said.
As performance opportunities slowed to a trickle last year, Janae said she had to reconnect with what dance meant to her outside of just a job. She was a 2020 recipient of the 3arts Make a Wave Award, received another grant last year, and picked up a new teaching position at Old Town School of Folk Music, but it was still a struggle, she said.
The pandemic and chaos of the past year forced her to turn to dance to manage stress and relearn how to keep moving forward. Last year she co-founded Eternal Resolve, a teaching series that uses movement to heal and find self-realization.
Much of this practice stemmed from her daily walks and outdoor dancing at the South Shore nature sanctuary.
“I endured a lot of trauma during this time and am trying to figure out a way to use dance to heal,” she said. “I have always been so busy as a dancer and dancing for other people, so I had to reconfigure what I want to do with my career.”
The Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Pivot Arts, the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance and Constellation Performing Arts are among the nonprofit performing spaces selected to create 60- to 90-minute shows for the virtual series.
Kate Dumbleton, the executive and artistic director at Hyde Park Jazz Festival, selected diverse musician duos that will combine the local history and presence of jazz and tap dance. The lineup includes notable musicians Ken Vandermark and Damon Locks, Joshua Abrams and Lisa Alvarado, and Greg Ward and Jumaane Taylor.
She said she appreciated the uniqueness of the Walder Foundation’s grant model that allowed the venues to put on a show while helping the artists at the same time. What’s even better is that each artist will get access to the video of their performance to promote themselves online and increase their visibility that’s been missing, she said.
“Certain artists we knew were struggling financially [so] we made sure they were included,” Dumbleton said. “All of us in the field, including the musicians, are really looking out for [one another]. People who live playing music just got devastated.”
Janae said she is excited to be in front of an audience again and can’t wait to dance for her community in person when it’s safer.
“I am trying to figure out how to live in the now and preparing to perform outside once it’s warm enough,” she said. ‘I miss the energy from the audience and being there in the space. My work is about community.”
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