The Butler New Choreography Endowment

Transformational $3 million gift from Dr. Ernest C. and Sarah G. Butler to fund new dance works

Two of Central Texas’ preeminent philanthropists and long-time supporters of the arts have endowed the Ballet Austin Foundation with a transformational $3 million gift for the purpose of funding new dance productions. 

Dr. Ernest C. and Sarah G. Butler unveiled The Butler New Choreography Endowment, a donation to support in perpetuity the creation of major dance works by Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin’s Sarah and Ernest Butler Family Fund Artistic Director, and his successors. The Butlers joined Mills and Executive Director Cookie Ruiz in announcing the new endowment before Austin business, political and community leaders at Ballet Austin’s annual fund-raising gala, Fête, held at the JW Marriott Austin on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016.

“Ballet Austin is the only professional dance company of its size in the United States to be the beneficiary of an endowment of this significance, reserved exclusively for the creation of new work,” Stephen Mills said. “As a producing choreographer, to have this kind of support is extraordinary because it not only funds the largest works we produce, it also ensures Ballet Austin remains a center for choreographic creativity and innovation for years to come. The Butlers’ commitment to Ballet Austin and the arts community is exceptional—as are they. Their belief in me and my vision has fueled my 16 years as an artistic director, and I can’t thank them enough for ensuring that our tradition of excellence will continue throughout my career and carry forward with those who follow me.”

“Providing a solid foundation upon which art and artists can thrive has been a long-time passion for our family,” Sarah Butler explained. “We’ve taken special pride in watching the growth and development of Ballet Austin over the last 60 years, from a small Central Texas dance academy into a professional ballet company that is among the largest in the country. In addition to its well-established Academy, Ballet Austin also operates the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness, a community-gathering place, where individuals of all ages and backgrounds come to dance, exercise and celebrate life-long health and wellbeing. To see this organization flourish under the current leadership proves that the investment of our time and financial resources through the Butler Family Fund is paying dividends for the entire community. Ernest and I are thrilled to ensure that Ballet Austin continues to serve as an artistic leader at home and abroad by investing in the great performing art we know Stephen Mills and his successors will create.”

The Butler New Choreography Endowment is the latest of more than a dozen significant financial gifts made by the Butlers to Ballet Austin in the last 17 years, and it brings the couple’s total investment to date in the nonprofit organization to more than $9.5 million. The Butlers’ gift of $3.5 million dollars was the cornerstone of Ballet Austin’s $10 million capital campaign to build the Butler Dance Education Center at 501 W. 3rd Street. The 38,000-square foot facility, in the heart of downtown Austin, is home to the ballet company and its artistic, administrative and production staff, as well as the Ballet Austin Academy and the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness. 

Additionally, the Butlers have endowed the role of Ballet Austin’s artistic director; the training and development of pre-professional artists through Ballet Austin II and fully funded up to 15 annual scholarships for participants of the Butler Fellowship Program. The Butlers have also endowed the Ballet Austin Academy, which annually provides classical ballet instruction for 1,000 dancers and outreach programs such as Night of Community, through which Ballet Austin offers more than 5,000 complimentary ballet tickets to the clients of more than 500 nonprofit agencies.

“The Butlers have always taken a very thoughtful and holistic approach to their investments in Ballet Austin, and we’re honored to be among the many prestigious arts organizations and educational institutions touched by their tremendous generosity,” Cookie Ruiz noted. “While Ballet Austin’s goal is to make dance accessible to everyone—as a vocation, hobby and source of entertainment and enlightenment—the investment required to produce new works of art is considerable. The Butler New Choreography Endowment will allow us to regularly bring new, innovative productions to the stage, while also allowing us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on our community and our human and financial resources focused on making Central Texas the best place to live, work and play.”

In June 2016, the Butlers were recognized by the national field of professional dance for their support of the art form at the Dance/USA Annual Conference awards ceremony in Austin. Dance/USA Executive Director Amy Fitterer honored the couple with the 2016 Champion Award, which is given to individuals, organizations, businesses or foundations in the conference host city whose achievements, leadership and support have sustained and advanced the art of dance in their home community. 

“Dr. and Mrs. Butler’s contributions to arts organizations have not only allowed Austin to increase the number of exceptional spaces designed for performance, rehearsal and exhibition, but also, through their consistent and unfailing support, the Butlers have guaranteed that Austinites continue to enjoy arts, culture and creativity,” Fitterer lauded. “Their passion and philanthropy continue to help shape and sustain the arts in Austin.”