NEA Arts Magazine

Branching Out

Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Tours State's Artists


Teneise Mitchell, Mora Amina Parker, Erin Barnett, Erin Moore, and Tracy Vogt

Philadanco dancers Teneise Mitchell, Mora Amina Parker, Erin Barnett, Erin Moore, and Tracy Vogt perform Enemy Behind the Gates by Christopher Huggins. The company has been on the PennPAT roster since the program began 11 years ago. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

Thanks to Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, you don't have to live in Pennsylvania to know the commonwealth is home to performing artists of a national caliber. Since 1997, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts has co-funded this unique grant program, known as PennPAT, that allows artists based in Pennsylvania to book dates in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

Philip Horn, the council's executive director, arrived in Harrisburg 15 years ago eager to set up an expansive touring program in Pennsylvania. Working with the Heinz Endowment's existing touring program, the Pew Charitable Trust, and the William Penn Foundation, the public-private partnership PennPAT was born. "It's simple," Horn said. "You send the money out and the artists get work."

The program is managed by regional arts organization Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. The NEA's unique collaboration with RAOs and SAAs in supporting touring provided a model for the infrastructure to facilitate the program. Artists apply to PennPAT to be added to a roster, which is chosen by an out-of-state panel of experts. In a separate application process, performing arts presenters from eight mid-Atlantic states, plus North Carolina, Ohio, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC, vie for grants ranging between $1,000 and $15,000 to book the participating PennPAT artists. Those applications are also reviewed by an independent panel.

The current roster includes 39 dance companies and choreographers, 79 musicians and musical ensembles, and 33 theater companies and performance artists. This year, PennPAT will invest $650,000 to fund more than 200 of these artists' performances. PennPAT also awards $150,000 in direct grants to artists for strategic projects such as hiring a marketing consultant, working with a lighting technician, or flying a potential presenter to Pennsylvania to see a performance.

The Philadelphia-based Koresh Dance Company took advantage of several of those grants, and now credits PennPAT with elevating its status from spunky local dance collective to a respected touring company.

"When we first joined PennPAT, we fluctuated between three and eight bookings per season, and we were stuck in a vicious circle," Alon Koresh, the company's executive director, said. Koresh made the PennPAT roster in 2001 and soon thereafter received strategic opportunity and technical assistance grants. "We knew we needed better quality marketing materials to get more bookings, but with the few bookings we had, we couldn't afford quality marketing materials. PennPAT technical assistance grants helped us break out of that cycle."

The program also has benefitted well-established ensembles. Joan Myers Brown, artistic director of Philadanco, said her dance company has been involved with PennPAT so long, she can't imagine what the company's touring schedule would look like without it. "When people think 'Philadanco,' they run to PennPAT," she said.