The United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) Board of Directors has announced the commitment of $500,000 to increase the impact of some of the organization's most important programs: Rigging Safety, Gateway Diversity, and Innovation Research Grants.
"This significant investment increases our opportunity to advance three very different areas of the theatre industry, while reaffirming our commitment to our members and the future of entertainment design and technology," said Mark Shanda, president of USITT.
"Sure it's an unprecedented investment, but even that is not as significant as the impact this will have on the future safety and opportunities for children and adults across our country, and even the world," added David Grindle, USITT executive director. “I am excited about this because we are at a time when we can give back to the industry and make a real impact, like when a group of people sat down years ago to develop DMX. There are new issues impacting us know, and we are pleased to be able to provide funds for the research.”
Grindle notes that USITT has gotten great feedback about its Rigging Safety program at schools across the country: “The schools that have had these inspections realize how important it is, and it often changes their outlook on the need for safety as well as the training that comes along with it. They realize the need to have people trained to safely operate the rigging within their space, and as we know, no two theatres are alike.”
Gateway Diversity program is also a major initiative for the non-profit organization. “This is a broad commitment to diversity everywhere,” notes Grindle. “We want to open doors for everyone and create a more inclusive environment throughout the industry.”
"Our industry is very homogeneous, at the community level and on a national level. We have seen it with more public roles like actors and directors, and it is just as homogenous behind the curtain, too," said David Stewart, USITT Board of Directors Diversity & Inclusion Committee Member. "In order to create our best work, it is imperative to diversify and ensure a plurality of voices. That is the purpose of the Gateway Initiative."
Gateway activities at the USITT's annual conference are designed to provide the students with greater access to professional mentors and opportunities within the industry. Underrepresented populations include, but are not limited to: race, gender, sexual orientation/identity, or disability.
Where did the $500,000 come from? “Over the years as we made money, we tried to save as much as possible, and is another return on the investments made by our membership and our generous donors,” indicates Grindle, who has been USITT's executive director for six and a half years. “We have been building a rainy day fund. Now we have the financial stability to give some of this back to the industry that we were founded to serve 57 years ago. This is very exciting for me, as the commitment came from the board and they are backing it in full force. This will help solidify our position in the industry. Continued support from members and donors helps support and expand our mission, ensuring the positive impact of the organization for practitioners, educators, and students in the theatre and entertainment industry well into the future."
The Innovation Research Grants will address technology challenges faced by the entertainment industry. USITT has offered grants for more than 30 years, but has never before seen this level of funding. "The new Innovation Grants program not only raises the amount of funding available for distribution and ultimately for greater impact, but we hope it will also increase the stream of research projects over multiple years," said Shanda. "These grants will allow for larger strides to be made in areas like safety, or sustainability and energy savings, and could even lead to new partnerships for the industry."
More information about the application process for the Innovation Grants, and about all of the USITT initiatives, will be announced at its Annual Conference & Stage Expo in St. Louis on March 8-11, 2017.