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Your Dream on a Budget

Nicole Decsey on bringing your project to life without a grant.

You have this brilliant idea: there is going to be dancing, music, glitter and a trapeze artist if you have the budget! But then you see your grant application was denied. Relatable?

Writing grants is a tedious process and it can take a long time to get one. But what happens if you don’t get the grant? Is that it? Show over and done? Wait till next year or the year after that? Possibly, but why not make it happen now?

Believe it or not, there are ways to create a show with less funding than you originally anticipated. And you can create a show without any outside funding at all. The important thing here is management of your funds and the scale of your show.

Here are my tips to raise what money you can on your own.

1. Start saving now. Open a small savings account just for your personal creative projects and put some money in it whenever you can. Maybe each month you put a little of your paycheck aside for your project starting at $20 and go from there. Small amounts regularly can be just as effective as large sums, as long as you are consistent and realistic about your goals. Maybe instead of eating out one night, you put that money into your project fund and make yourself a sandwich instead. It might shock you how much you can save in a short amount of time with a little planning. Once you have your own personal project fund up and running, you can start creating your show on a budget.

2. Residencies. Since you may not be able to fully meet your goal with just your savings, know that there are other ways to support your project without access to funds. There are quite a few residencies out there waiting for your application.

Nicole ready for rehearsal at the Walter Carsen Centre (home of the National Ballet of Canada)

I have had positive experiences with the Open Space Program through the National Ballet of Canada. Their residencies are open throughout the year to people at any stage in their creative process, offering spots to both emerging and established artists. This residency not only offers space, but a small bursary as well.

Residencies are great, because they provide free space and sometimes mentorship. Having access to space means there is one less expense you have to worry about, and I believe every artist can benefit from mentorship no matter what point they are at in their careers.

Ignite Dance run by David Norsworthy and Kristen Carcone is a great opportunity for both choreographers and dancers alike. When I participated as a dancer in the program, I got to see first-hand how the choreographers benefitted from the mentorship they received from David and Kristen. They got to see their ideas from a different point of view, which ultimately gave them a better understanding of how their work was being perceived and how they could better get their point across. In many cases, you just need to find the right mentor for you.

3. Festivals. Festivals are great, because they offer more exposure than some artists can get on their own, especially when it’s their first swing at bat. A well-known festival like Nuit Blanche already has an established crowd base that will come to see whatever is on their annual programming, thus, offering a new and diverse audience base for any creator involved. Once included in these festivals, your show becomes a part of their set schedule featured on their website, which again brings more awareness to your show.

4. “In Kind” contributions. Support that benefits both parties is a great way for artists to help one another out. Students can volunteer as ushers to get community hours, experience in the industry, gain networking opportunities, and a free ticket to the show. As the director of a show, there are many things you can offer for In Kind contributions such as mentorship, comp tickets, or offering your services on their project. The giving goes both ways.

5. Fundraising Campaigns. My final suggestion for you is to investigate creating your own fundraising campaign through websites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter. Campaigns of any kind require social media outreach, and I am sure there are lots of people out there who would love to support you and help you make your way in your career. In my personal experience, I have seen many artists run GoFundMe Campaigns. The 5th Dance Centre is currently running a GoFundMe Page to raise money for the development of their new space. Their classes were run in the iconic Dance Makers Space until it was shut down because of COVID, causing them to look for alternative options. The campaign for the renovations of their new home is going well so far and every day they get closer to their goal.

This section could be a whole article unto itself, so you should probably do little more digging before diving full force into a fundraising campaign. Or perhaps stay tuned for a blog post on this topic…

If that’s something you’d like us to cover, let us know via email at or DM us on Instagram @adancewayoflife!

Now what to do with that money you saved …

How do we go from the dream to the reality if we wind up with less funds than we originally anticipated? First, you have to figure out what is most important for your production and what you can live without. Then break it down.

1. Paying the artists. I believe that the most important aspect of every production is making sure the performers and crew are properly compensated. Compensation comes down to a conversation between what you can afford and what you believe is fair. Consider minimum wage, the experience level of the performers and what jobs your performers will be turning down to work with you.

Also remember how far you are asking them to commute. If you have the ability, maybe you can offer to drive participants to and from rehearsals while also providing snacks. This is aside from any In Kind collaborations or volunteering that may occur.

2. Space is the next thing to think about.Where will you rehearse, where will you perform? You may have to start doing a little digging here as there are a lot of dance spaces across the GTA. The question is, are they available and can you afford them? Also, don’t be shy to talk to your studio owner if you are a teacher. They may allow you to use their space for free or at a discounted rate.

Don’t forget, we can now meet and work virtually. If you are really in a pinch, take advantage of the power and ease that Zoom provides. Then, you can get a lot of work done virtually without having to worry about space at all.

Sneak peek at rehearsals for Nicole's latest project!

3. Scope and scale. Once you’ve covered performers, crew, and space, you can start to think about the scope of your production. And whatever money you have left is what you have to work with. There is nothing wrong with scaling back your production for your first performance. You can make it a smaller endeavor while still getting your point across. Easy things to change are using fewer props, shortening the length of the production, and making the lighting and costume designs simpler. Artistic works can have long lives being repeated multiple times while evolving as the show and your company gain more recognition and momentum. But you have to start somewhere. Start small and let your dream grow over time.

There are many ways to make your production happen on a small budget, these are just my recommendations. My final piece of advice is for you to find people you trust. You want to surround yourself with the people you want to work with and the people who will help your dream become a reality.

I am on this journey with you. Currently, I am in the process of planning a production to be performed in 2023 without any grant money. A situation has presented itself and I have decided that I no longer want to wait. Because I consistently applied for every residency opportunity I could find, I have been lucky enough to be accepted into the Open Space Program for the second time. This is my chance, and I am determined not to let it slip away. Rehearsals have been confirmed, more are in the works, and I am on the verge of booking a performance venue. It is scary, but also exciting. My hope is that my journey and this article will give you the courage to create the piece you have always wanted. Don’t let your chance slip past your fingers.

Reach for the stars and you just might make it to the moon.



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