A rendering of Deeply Rooted Dance Company's future Washington Park facility. Credit: Provided.

WASHINGTON PARK — One of Chicago’s premier dance troupes received a $5 million grant from the city’s Recovery Plan Fund as it prepares to open a state-of-the-art facility on the South Side.

The grant will help Deeply Rooted Dance Company with its move from a shared South Loop studio space with Ballet Chicago to a 30,000-square-foot building in the 5400 block of South State St. in Washington Park, which is set to open in December 2024.

Deeply Rooted was among 133 finalists chosen to receive a larger part of the $54 million awarded to organizations across the city.

“We’ve been working with the City of Chicago on this grant for about two years now. This was the third cycle. We’d applied other times before,” said Makeda Crayton, the company’s executive director. “The city has been wanting to put money into arts and culture, specifically in disinvested, historically disinvested neighborhoods on the South and West sides, so the project was very attractive to them.”

Crayton assumed her role earlier this year after Kevin Iega Jeff stepped down to become the company’s creative director and resident choreographer. With Nicole Clark-Springer as artistic director, Deeply Rooted is one of the first Chicago-based dance companies to be led by two Black women.

The total cost of the new building is estimated at $15.6 million. Deeply Rooted hopes to raise an additional $10 million that would be used exclusively for programming.

The city had also been helping the dance troupe with fundraising efforts, said Crayton, adding the boost has helped to reassure private donors that the project will be seen through to completion.

The organization also received $3 million last summer from the state’s Rebuild Illinois Downtowns and Main Streets Capital Program grant, a $500,000 Together We Heal Creative Place grant from the city, and another $1 million from private donors.

While Crayton is grateful for the support, she acknowledges the uphill climb most Black-led nonprofits face when looking for funding. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in June 2022 that 75 percent of Black-led organizations received foundation funding compared with 86 percent of white-led organizations.

“It goes back to the racism and stereotyping. They don’t believe we have enough experience to be able to run our own businesses, run them efficiently and effectively. And on top of being Black, another thing that plays into it is the socioeconomic element of it,” Crayton said. “We’ve never handled millions of dollars, we’ve never owned our own spaces that are this large. Do we know what it takes to? There’s an assumption that we’re going into this blindly.”

Which is why Deeply Rooted has been strategic in its planning, Crayton said. Aligning itself with the International Association of Blacks in Dance and participating in conferences and conventions where Crayton and her team share their best practices has helped fortify the organization as it prepares for the biggest move in its 27-year history.

Support from local officials has also been invaluable, with Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) being one of Deeply Rooted’s biggest champions, Crayton said.

“When we’re working on through processes with the city and things start to stall, [Dowell will] personally go and say, ‘OK, let me see what I can do on my end.’ Before, when we went through the Chicago Recovery Grant process and didn’t make it, she’d set up a meeting with us and the Department of Planning and Development so that we could get feedback from them,” Crayton said.

Deeply Rooted is gearing up for yet another busy season; this summer it will partner with the Chicago Park District for a trio of performances at three parks and performing at Ravinia.

The company’s Summer Dance Intensive, which kicks off June 9, draws students and professionals from all over the globe. The program will end July 14 with two performances at the Logan Center for the Arts.

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