Founded in August of 2017 on the South Side of Chicago, Open the Circle (OTC) is a nonprofit backbone organization devoted to channeling resources into grassroots creative projects. Our initial focus is on Chicago Footwork, a style of African American dance and music developed by young people living in immediate proximity to some of the greatest problems facing American society. Footwork provides OTC an opportunity to support an enduring and living art form from the grassroots of Chicago.

OTC is a charitable, tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. OTC’s projects were designed with the following goals: 

  • Provide positive outlets to keep Chicago youth safe through dance education and social dance

  • Strengthen community among footwork dancers and DJs on the south and west sides of Chicago

  • Catalyze the movement to create opportunities for footwork dancers and DJs to support themselves financially, providing upfront investments so that artists can own and control their work

  • Help Chicago to recognize its own cultural assets by documenting the history of footwork and sharing it in Chicago and internationally on terms set by Chicagoans

Our three inaugural projects are in dance education, documentary film and performance. Beyond this, OTC is dedicated to mentorship at all levels. We teach art, filmmaking and social entrepreneurship. We use Footwork to speak about issues of social justice and inequality, building relationships across segregated divides. 

OTC takes its name from crowded Chicago dance floors. When the floor gets overly packed, two people will lock hands and spin through the crowd – “opening the circle” – to make space for dancing. In OTC’s name and aim, this move is a metaphor for opening tightly-knit circles of power and resources in society, re-centering them to benefit artists and youth in divested communities.