Pamela Young, Executive Director, DANCECleveland
2014 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
Photo by Rob Muller
Pamela Young figured out early in life that she was never going to be a dancer or performing artist of any kind, even though the Cleveland Heights native had the arts deeply engrained in her being.
“I grew up playing piano and loved Bach, loved music, but I hated performing,” reveals DANCECleveland’s Executive Director since 2003. “I’m much more comfortable behind the curtain, behind the scenes, doing the contracts and programming and so on.”
Although things worked out in the end, Pam did take a long and winding path to find her dream job. Unsure of what she wanted to pursue at Ohio University, a trip to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s residential masterpiece at Falling Water turned her head in the direction of architecture. She transferred to the University of Cincinnati, where she earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Design in 1977 and went on to work for several architectural and design firms.
Along the way, she applied for a position at the then Committee for Public Art just when the Director, Kathleen Coakley, was about to take a one-year leave as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard. Pam ended up project managing a number of major public art projects for the Gateway and Warehouse districts, Cleveland Public Library and others that combined her skills in architecture and art. Building on what she learned about fundraising and accounting for nonprofit organizations, she became a development professional for the Cleveland Ballet and then Dancing Wheels. That’s when DANCECleveland invited her to join its Board of Directors.
Not long after, the Executive Director decided to leave, and suddenly the organization found itself facing unforeseen and seemingly insurmountable financial challenges. Pamela resigned from the Board so that she could be considered for the position. She volunteered to assemble a team to evaluate what DANCECleveland needed to remain viable and developed a plan to move the organization forward.
“We put together a road map of ideas, and we met with our funders to discuss what it would take to turn the ship around,” Pam recalls. “Without the support of the Cleveland and Gund Foundations and some of our long-term supporters, it would not have been possible.”
Long-time DANCECleveland Board member Pamela Barr relates, “One of the distinguishing things about Pam is that she had a vision for the organization when she came onboard. That vision is what has helped her keep on point and be so successful in leading the organization.”
One of her first initiatives was to build up a cash surplus of $160,000 to safeguard against irregular grant payments and to capture opportunities that may arise suddenly. Among several innovative programs she launched, one of her favorites is the Read to Learn… Dance to Move, a dance and literacy program which works with children in the Cleveland public schools. In 2007, she launched a major dance residency program with the University of Akron, and in February of 2013, DANCECleveland and CSU co-sponsored the nationally renowned Mark Morris Dance Group Dance for Parkinson’s disease two-day training workshop. She is currently assiduously focused on the planning of a new national dance center to give more prominence to dance in northeast Ohio while supporting American companies.
In the 10 years since she assumed the reigns, Pam not only kept the organization from closing, but has won national recognition for her innovations in programming and precedent-setting partnerships with other institutions that are being recognized nationally as exciting models. Under Pam’s leadership, DANCECleveland has seen significant growth in subscribers, funders and budget, enjoys greater visibility and market presence, and its staff has grown from one person to six.
Most recently, DANCECleveland won its second prestigious Joyce Award – the first was received in 2006 – for support/commissioning of cross-cultural arts projects. “The significance of this project with New York choreographer Camille A. Brown will be huge for DANCECleveland,” Pam says. “These kinds of fellowships are becoming rarer and rarer.”
Perhaps the most lasting impact DANCECleveland can have by exposing children to great dance companies, Pam knows, is the inspiration it provides to shape the dancers and audience members of the future. “Every time the curtain goes up, there’s a young person seeing dance for the first time,” she says. “And you’re never going to become a dance lover unless you come to your first performance.”