FSU dance professor among organizations to benefit from MacKenzie Scott donations

Urban Bush Women’s "Girlfriends" | Photo Credit: Hayim Heron
Urban Bush Women’s "Girlfriends" | Photo Credit: Hayim Heron

Urban Bush Women (UBW), founded by Florida State University School of Dance Professor Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, received a $3 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott — the largest monetary award in the company’s history.

The gift is one of 286 high-impact contributions from Scott given to organizations and communities that have been historically underfunded and part of a $2.7 billion in donations.

“There have been numerous studies from different sectors of the arts field that have documented the historic underfunding of Black artists of color, women-led organizations, and queer and disabled groups,” Zollar said. “This award highlights a move toward equity.”

This gift comes on the heels of a seven-figure award from the Ford Foundation as part of an initiative to recognize Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous arts organizations negatively impacted by COVID-19.

“Though diminutive in stature, Jawole Zollar is a giant in the field of dance,” said James Frazier, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “She and Urban Bush Women have had an astounding year of honors and of garnering substantial funding support from major organizations, including the recent gift from high-profile donor MacKenzie Scott.”

Scott made the announcement in a blog post on Medium.com, “Seeding by Ceding,” where she discussed how people struggling against inequities deserve center stage in stories about changes they are creating.

Zollar founded the celebrated New York dance company Urban Bush Women (UBW) in 1984 and joined the faculty of the FSU School of Dance in 1997. This gift will allow UBW to establish an appropriate cash reserve and plan for the future.

“As I said in The New York Times, we have functioned on ‘prayer and spit’ and still have produced ground-breaking works with limited resources,” Zollar said. “This award allows us time to prioritize what we want to do and where we want to go as opposed to responding to every opportunity in order to stay afloat.”

Zollar’s experiences with UBW have influenced her work at Florida State.

Her work is all a creative process, and the development of pedagogy and methodologies to strengthen the creative process are circular and deeply intertwined.

“I love teaching,” Zollar said. “As a director and choreographer, you must understand how to communicate your ideas and help others implement them. Working with students is moving them toward professional work and expectations. Working with professionals allows me to see the highest my ideas can go and excel.”

Zollar is the recipient of numerous accolades for her work as a dancer and choreographer, including the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Award at Florida State, the highest honor given by the FSU faculty to one of its own. In October, she will also be presented with Dance Teacher magazine’s 2021 Award of Distinction, which is given to outstanding educators for their contributions to their field.

“Professor Zollar is a celebrated artist and a dedicated instructor and colleague, and we are extremely fortunate to count her as both a faculty member and an alum of FSU, because she models that for which we strive — the very best in creative scholarship, teaching and service,” Frazier said.

For more information, visit dance.fsu.edu or urbanbushwomen.org.

Urban Bush Women’s I Don’t Know, but I Been Told, If You Keep on Dancin’ You Never Grow Old | Photo Credit: Ian Douglas
Urban Bush Women’s “I Don’t Know, but I Been Told, If You Keep on Dancin’ You Never Grow Old” | Photo Credit: Ian Douglas