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DANCE NEWS: Leela Dance Collective Raises $1 Million as First Ever Endowment to Support Kathak Dance & Music in the U.S.

DANCE NEWS: Leela Dance Collective Raises $1 Million as First Ever Endowment to Support Kathak Dance & Music in the U.S.

Published on October 5, 2023

Collage photo credits (clockwise from top left): Jayanta Banerjee (photo by Eric Schkrutz), Rukhmani Mehta (photo by Travis Broxton), Satyaprakash Mishra (photo by Eric Schkrutz), Jay Gandhi (photo by Nitish Adla), and Seibi Lee (photo by Robert Orsa).

Leela Dance Collective, the Los Angeles-based internationally-touring kathak dance company that combines classical dance from North India with contemporary influences, announces today that it has reached its initial $1 million goal for The Leela Foundation. This endowment fund is the only one of its kind, designed to support the future of kathak dance and Hindustani classical music in the United States. 

Founded in 2016, Leela Dance Collective is a critically-acclaimed dance company that advances kathak, classical dance from North India. Through traditional works and cross-genre collaborations, Leela brings the richness and depth of Indian classical dance to contemporary audiences. Leela Dance Collective is led by the artistic direction of renowned kathak artists Rukhmani Mehta (previously Rina Mehta), Seibi Lee, and Rachna Nivas, and engages some of today’s leading dancers and musicians, as well as collaborative artists of other genres. Leela Dance Collective has created groundbreaking productions including SPEAK, Son of the Wind, ReSound, and more. Past highlights include appearances at Ford Theaters, The Broad Stage, Kimmel Center, the Green Music Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, National Center for the Performing Arts in Bombay, Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and NC State LIVE. Leela also trains the next generation of kathak artists, offering classes, training, and intensives through studios in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver and New York, plus online courses. 

Rukhmani Mehta (Co-Artistic Director). Photo by Travis Broxton

In 2016, Leela launched a campaign to establish The Leela Foundation, the first United States-based endowment for North Indian artistic and cultural heritage. The Leela Foundation aims to build the financial infrastructure necessary for kathak dance and Hindustani classical music to thrive for generations to come, through direct funding for artists in the form of salary support, fellowships, awards, and artist residencies. 

“The leaders of Leela Dance Collective are dedicated to the future of our art form: to supporting our fellow professional dancers and musicians, to training the next generation of kathak artists, and to artistic excellence with our field,” comments Leela Dance Collective Co-Artistic Director Rukhmani Mehta. “Currently, it is virtually impossible for kathak dancers and classical Indian musicians to pursue a full-time career in their chosen field. This lack of infrastructure is directly tied to the legacy of colonialism, particularly the British dismantling of Indian artistic and cultural traditions. We still feel the effects of these historical events more than a century later.”

In 2020, The Leela Foundation granted inaugural Artist Awards, providing direct support to some of today’s leading musicians.These first Artist Awards were presented to artists Jayanta Banerjee, sitarist, musician and composer; Ben Kunin, sarod artist and senior disciple of the maestro, Ud. Ali Akbar Khan; Debashis Sarkar (posthumously), vocalist and musician; and Satyaprakash Mishra, tabla percussionist. In 2021 the fund supported three kathak dance artists: Gretchen Hayden, Joanna DeSouza, and Madhuri Devi Singh. In 2022, The Leela Foundation supported bansuri artist Jay Gandhi (Hindustani flute). 

Jay Gandhi (musician). Photo by Nitish Adla

“A $1 million endowment is modest in the world of philanthropy and Western fine arts, but huge for our field of kathak and Hindustani classical music,” continued Mehta. “So many incredibly talented and acclaimed classical Indian dance and music artists struggle to support their artistry and lives financially. This endowment fund aims to provide artists with the support they need to thrive and advance these art forms. Without such support, these artists and artistic traditions are at risk. I know this is just the beginning for what our community can build together, to secure and grow the future of our art form. We are so incredibly grateful to the individuals and funders who have helped us reach this initial goal.”

“Leela Dance Collective is one of the very few professional touring companies elevating classical Indian dance and music on the world stage,” commented Shirish Dayal, Executive Vice President of the Tarsadia Foundation. “We believe in their mission to advance and sustain cultural traditions and strengthen infrastructure for kathak dance and Hindustani classical music, and are proud to provide lead support for The Leela Foundation.”

Moving forward, each year 4% of the endowment’s market value will be distributed. The Leela Foundation aims to grow the fund annually through investment income, new donations, and/or bequests.

Seibi Lee (Co-Artistic Director). Photo by Robert Orsa

Endowment Patrons 

Lead contributors to the Leela Dance Collective endowment fund include: 

  • Tarsadia Foundation 
  • Shruti Mahajan & Kashyap Deorah
  • Ushakant & Irma Thakkar
  • Dinesh & Shaila Mehta
  • Yogesh & Bina Nivas 
  • Amar & Vinita Singh 
  • Leah & Gary Schoolnik
  • Prabhu & Poonam Goel

For a list of Leela Dance Collective Board of Directors, click here

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