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White Bird's NEST Program Fills the Seats


Not long after White Bird Dance began bringing contemporary dance companies to Portland in 1997, they started getting requests for free tickets. White Bird was founded with the goal of helping introduce new audiences to dance. At the same time, local nonprofits who worked with underserved communities were looking for a way to give their clients access to the arts.

Since making dance available to everyone is a core part of their mission, White Bird co-founder Paul King came up with an elegant solution.

“Right about then, we noticed a lot of empty seats in the subscriber sections,” says King. “At any given show, there may have been a hundred or more of our subscribers’ tickets that didn’t get used because they were out of town, got sick or something like that. It seemed to make sense, rather than let them go to waste, that those tickets could be donated.”

The “NEST” (No Empty Seats Today) program was born.

Go See It!

White Bird Presents: Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca

  • January 12-14, 7:30 p.m.
  • Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway (at Main Street), Portland
  • Visit website

White Bird subscribers who find they can’t use their tickets can turn them into a tax-deductible donation to the NEST program. The tickets are distributed to one of 14 local social services organizations ranging from Outside In and P:ear, which work with homeless youth, to the Northwest Pilot Project, which works with low-income seniors. Additional donations from corporations and individuals allow White Bird to buy full subscriptions for some of their partner organizations, providing guaranteed seats they can distribute to their clients in advance of the performance.

Through NEST, people who may never have had the opportunity to see a live arts performance have access to some world-renowned contemporary dance companies. The acclaimed Idaho-based company, Trey McIntyre Project, performed three shows in December. In the coming months White Bird will present appearances by the Spanish troupe Noche Flamenca and Sweden’s Goeteborg Ballet.

Although the costs of the tickets are donated, White Bird has discovered that it takes an extra commitment to work through the logistics and make sure the program is running smoothly. A volunteer coordinator tracks usage and works directly with organizations to provide support to people who may be attending their first live performance. “We want them to feel comfortable, to understand the etiquette and experience of seeing a live performance before they go,” says King.

Now after 10 years of developing the program, King feels it’s ready to expand to include other arts organizations in the city. He hopes to create a holding entity that can collect and distribute tickets for a variety of cultural experiences from art museums to classical music and theater.

“I think it’s eye-opening for people to see this kind of art in person,” says King.

Watch Oregon Art Beat’s story about White Bird Dance on Thursday, January 5 at 8 pm on OPB TV.