Jan Virgin joined Dance Kaleidoscope in March 1997, was officially appointed executive director in December, 2001, and will retire June 30, 2021.
What transpired throughout her 24+ years of service, representing half of DK’s lifetime as Central Indiana’s premiere modern dance company, can serve as a template for performing arts leadership: Figure out what needs to be done, assemble a team or get it done, and move on to figure out the next need.
“During her tenure, Virgin has been known to audiences, donors, and grantors for forming lasting relationships in the community that made everyone feel part of the DK family,” summarizes the official announcement. “Under Virgin’s leadership, DK’s audience attendance rose 75%. She opened doors that resulted in artistic collaborations.
Years of maintaining relationships with major grantors led to Lilly Endowment awarding DK $5 million in 2015 for the formation of an endowment — the first in the company’s history. She was also responsible for DK receiving significant grants from the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, Glick Philanthropies, and many others,” cites the DK news release.
Seeing beyond financial security, Virgin initiated a search for the right space for artistic growth. August 10, 2020, Dance Kaleidoscope Studios opened in the Circle City Industrial Complex near Mass Ave.
The administrative staff maintains its office on the Butler University campus, creating an east-west span across the city.
To supplement Jan’s career summation, “Joining DK was the best decision I’ve ever made,” we did an email Q&A interview:
RITA KOHN: What brought you to the position you now hold?
JAN VIRGIN: Years ago, my daughter Jaclyn was performing in DK’s holiday show, giving me the opportunity to interact with David and the DK dancers on a somewhat regular basis for about a month. [At that time], I was employed by Ballet Internationale, so David and I talked about dance and dance companies. Not long after the new year , David called to invite me to work for DK. David is very persuasive, and after two weeks of evening phone calls and his magic words, “DK needs you,” I agreed to his offer. I was in for the ride of my life. When I first began working with DK, I was the only administrative staff, had no title, and knew very little about DK. I knew nothing about writing grants, working with schools, or marketing DK shows. But I did know how to connect with people and was an avid learner. David, and Deena Nystrom, DK board president at the time, told me I could take the job as far as I wanted to. So I did just that. After working hard, learning much, and putting in long hours, I became managing director and then executive director.
KOHN: What insights/intentions did you particularly bring to your leadership role to Dance Kaleidoscope and, at times working in unison with other arts organizations in residence with Butler University, what made those performance partnerships significant for arts in Indianapolis and beyond?
VIRGIN: When I began working for DK, I knew so little and DK needed so much. I took it upon myself to get to know the database with all the names of DK’s audiences, grantors and donors. I made phone calls to introduce myself, thanking each person for their history with DK and asking what they wanted for DK’s future. The response was that they wanted more from the performances. To that end, it made sense to work with other organizations to collaborate on marketing such as Passport to the Arts. Meetings with the Indianapolis Consortium of Arts Administrators helped bring about performances like An American in Paris with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Rhapsody in Blue with American Pianists Association and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.
Different arts organizations add layers. For the community, a collaborative performance gives more bang for their buck (choral, orchestra and movement all at once), and for the arts organizations, it offers their artists new challenges and successes. Plus collaborations help spread the word to new patrons about each organization and what they do. Groups working together share the income, expenses, and the applause.
My favorite collaboration was when the six arts organizations housed at Butler University joined together to present Carmina Burana. The executive directors from DK, American Pianists Association, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, Indianapolis Children’s Choir and Clowes Memorial Hall all stood on stage holding hands and addressed the audience collectively. That was thrilling.
KOHN: What are the best moments, whether known only to you and/or revealed to the public at large?
VIRGIN: My best moments happen when I am talking with audiences in the lobby — the comments they share about what DK means to them, how the performance made them feel, how they look forward to DK shows, and how DK affects their lives. I now know these people, maybe by face only, but I look for them when I am on stage during curtain speeches. These patrons give stories to share and help me make my curtain speeches fresh, sincere, and personal.
I have so many bests but to name a few more:
Professionally: the David and Jan partnership; receiving LEI’s grant of $5 million to begin DK’s first endowment; touring to Ashland, Oregon each summer for ten years for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and seeing the DK Studios at CCIC become DK’s new artistic home.
Personally: watching my daughter perform as a DK company member; another daughter growing as a dance photographer; my granddaughter performing as the little girl in DK’s Scheherazade; and the trips and friendships made from DK’s staff, patrons, board, and advisory board.
KOHN: What makes the role of an arts administrator rewarding/challenging under 'ordinary' circumstances' and suddenly in the time of COVID-19 ‘overwhelming’?
VIRGIN: I am so proud to represent DK, getting to say, “I am Jan Virgin, DK’s executive director, and I have the privilege to ask you to support DK, but you have the power to respond and keep DK dancing.”
When I walk behind the curtain before a curtain speech, I look at the dancers as they prepare to perform. Then when I walk onto the stage I know why I am asking. And when I look out into the audience and see friendly and familiar faces, I know who I am asking.
Asking for support during COVID-19 is more challenging and harder to feel comfortable doing. However, I am always rewarded when reminded that DK does make a difference — to our community as a whole and to our audiences, dancers, and students. Art affects lives and makes a difference. I am proud of the DK staff and their obvious loyalty to the company and to me—they make me look good in the best of times, and during these unusual times of COVID-19.
KOHN: What makes your organization essential to the vibrancy of greater Indianapolis, and beyond?
VIRGIN: Dance Kaleidoscope is the oldest professional dance company in Indiana, now celebrating 49 seasons. Our dance company has made a mark in Indianapolis, a city well-known for sports. DK has grown and is doing more out in the community, being more, and reaching more, even now during COVID-19 when we are mostly virtual.
KOHN: What, when you take leave of this position, will you take with you for the continuation of a life of joyful service?
VIRGIN: I will continue to cherish the friends I’ve made from DK’s staff, board and audiences; my love of the arts; the knowledge I’ve gained over 25 years with DK; and my health.
KOHN: What else?
VIRGIN: I’ve been blessed with stories, relationships and experiences. The DK life has been good to me.