Rob Bettman Has Some New Ideas

by Ellyn Weiss for Pinkline Project

This is a story about a guy who does a whole lot of things and does them all well and about his newest project to create an evening-length dance in and of the community.

To begin: if you are an artist or a lover of art, Rob Bettmann has been working for you and it’s quite likely that you don’t know it. As Chair of DC Advocates for the Arts, Rob is the guy who pays attention to the arcana of legislation-speak that makes most of us feverish, and  spreads the news when the DC Council (or the U.S. Congress, for that matter) is considering something that is good or, in mist cases, bad for artists. He is the one – sometimes the only one – who shows up at the council hearings to speak for all of us. When the city was considering last year’s Healthy Schools Act he was there trying to make sure that dance was included as a P.E. offering for DCPS students, and when the Development Committee is discussing job training programs he is the one in the meetings arguing that arts administration training should be included.

Rob’s heart begins in the dance world; his pedigree includes the Alvin Ailey School, an MFA in dance from AU and two Young Emerging Artist grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He has danced with companies around the country and in 2009, he founded Bettmann Dances as a vehicle to develop his ideas in our community with local dancers. The company’s first full-length work, All Good Men, produced in 2009, was nominated for an award from the DC Commission.

In 2005, Rob started the arts magazine Bourgeon, now BourgeonOnline,, a journal that has carved a niche for artists in all kinds of visual and performing media to speak to each other and the public.

Now Rob is trying something new, or several somethings new at the same time. First, he has conceived an idea to develop an evening-length dance based on the theme of security in our post-9/11, post-Wall Street collapse world. The project is called Quis Custodiet – who will watch the watchers? (You may note that Rob has a penchant for meaningful but somewhat opaque titles.) Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Day Eight, the new non-profit set up to oversee both Bettman Dances and Bourgeon)

Security is a concept that one rarely considered even a decade ago, in those innocent days before the creation of the colossal Homeland Security Department. Now, particularly in this city where even the most insignificant federal installation features visible armed guards, the issue is unavoidable. Quis custodiet will look at questions like: who decides what security requires, what does it actually mean in our personal lives, what does it cost us and other communities?

Second, the dance will be developed through free community workshops and one member of the community will be selected to join the group performing the dance in a number of East Coast cities. Tim Tate (no introduction needed) and Chanan Delivuk, a GW professor and multi-media artist, are doing video and set design for the project.

Third, Rob is trying to raise the funds needed to pull this off through Kickstarter, an Internet site established to bring creative and ambitious ideas to the online marketplace. If selected (and Quis Custodiet has been), the artist sets a goal – in this case, $4700, and a timeline for reaching it. If the goal is reached or exceeded, the online pledges are called and the money goes to the artist; if not, the money is never collected from the donors. The “all or nothing” aspect of Kickstarter is unique and, as you can imagine, quite anxiety-inducing. The deadline is Sunday, September 26. Stay tuned for results.

by Ellyn Weiss

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