Going into it’s 50th anniversary season, Philadanco has hired an interim executive director, artistic director Joan Myers Brown announced Wednesday night.
Elgie Gaynell Sherrod will relieve Brown of one of her many hats, handling the organization’s business side and new strategic plan.
Brown, 87, has long said she would remain with Philadanco until its 50th anniversary and the 60th anniversary of its Philadelphia School of Dance Arts. Both anniversaries take place in 2020, and the company will open a yearlong celebration beginning Oct. 5 performance at the Merriam Theater.
The company, created to give black dancers performance opportunities, is one of the jewels on Philadelphia’s arts scene, but one that has struggled throughout its history. Sherrod will be tasked with improving its financial standing.
Sherrod was a longtime dancer with the company and more recently an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her background covers arts administration, performance, and both K-12 and higher education.
She received her masters and doctorate in dance performative research and pedagogy from Temple University, and a Fulbright-Hayes Scholarship to travel throughout Brazil to study African-derived spiritual dance forms.
During her time performing with Philadanco, she taught master classes, mentored young dancers, and was the company representative handling dancer concerns and well being.
With the impending departure of Brown, the company has struggled to nail down a succession plan. Finding funding for Philadanco has also long been a struggle, something Brown attributes to the lack of importance placed on black arts. To make ends meet, Brown has lent the company hundreds of thousands of dollars of her personal money. The company’s 2014-15 tax return lists a $718,391 loan from Brown, an indication of how Brown stepped in when corporate and foundation gifts dried up.
This turned out to be a Catch-22, Brown has said, because people and organizations that might be willing to help are often worried about the debt.