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A Reconfigured Performing Arts Discipline

Circus arts have been in the public eye for decades. Most people have seen a traditional touring circus (such as Ringling Brothers Circus) or Chinese acrobats in a theater. But did you know that circus arts have evolved and are burgeoning as “new” circus here in the U.S.? The “new” circus arts have exploded in Europe, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. Companies from these countries receive governmental support and tour internationally. Yet here in the U.S., this “new” discipline is not recognized or acknowledged as a specific discipline by most funders. This is gradually changing, thanks to the work of many, but particularly that of an advocacy organization called Circus Now.

In the U.S., “circus” conjures up images of elephants, lions, sequined trapeze artists, and clowns exploding from cars. But today’s “new” circus is different. Thanks to Cirque du Soleil, the wildly successful Canadian company, public appreciation for circus arts — a contemporary blend of dance, theater, music, multi-media visual production, and circus arts — is growing, and circus artists are appearing on more stages. Arts Emerson (Boston) is presenting a Canadian circus company, Les sept doigts de la main, in the Cutler Majestic Theater in October as part of its 2014-15 season. Circa, an Australian circus company, was presented at Jacob’s Pillow this summer. Summer Stage in New York City presented its second annual festival of American circus companies in August. In January, in conjunction with Americans for the Performing Arts annual conference, Circus Now is holding a pre-conference event called International Circus Exposure 2015.

But most funders do not recognize circus arts as its own discipline. Rather, circus artists must apply under theater, dance, or performance art. Circus Now is determined to change this and recently announced that the Arts Council of New Orleans is leading the way by including circus arts as an explicit category for arts funding. Hopefully others will follow.

Time for full disclosure. My daughter is a circus artist. She recently graduated from theNational Circus School in Montreal and has co-launched an American circus company,Frequently Asked Questions, with the dream of becoming one of the few nationally-known American circus companies recognized as an artistic company worthy of philanthropic support. In addition, I am a board member of a wonderful youth circus that launched my daughter’s career, Circus Smirkus. I invite you to see some “new” circus this fall. I am sure it will be available!

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