Ten Who Cared: Pam Kuntz uses dance to share stories, build community

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 24, 2013 

10 Who Cared: Pam Kuntz

Pam Kuntz working with dancers on her piece titled "Positive," which tells the stories of community members who are HIV positive, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 at the YWCA in Bellingham.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Most people, or maybe just the lucky ones, seem to have that one thing that they can't live without. At least that's how dance instructor and arts advocate Pam Kuntz sees it.

For some, a sport like running offers a euphoric feeling that becomes something they crave. For Kuntz, the arts are more than just the seductive sirens that draw audiences to the occasional performance - they are a daily addiction and an outlet for sharing stories of those who live in her community.

Professor, nonprofit founder and mother, Kuntz has spent the better part of the last 14 years dedicated to the arts community in Bellingham.

The Montana native teaches modern dance and ballet at Western Washington University, along with other dance-related courses.

She married fellow patron of the arts Mark Kuntz, who teaches theater at WWU, a few years after arriving in Bellingham.

In 2005, while she was pregnant with her second son, Kuntz was inspired to pursue a project about motherhood.

"I was nervous - I wasn't sure if I was doing a good job with the first," she says. "I figured if I found moms who had way more difficulties and had come out the other side, I'd be fine."

She interviewed five mothers about their own experiences and then hired dancers to interpret their stories on stage for "The Mom Project."

After the success of that project, Kuntz continued to work on one or two similar productions per year outside of her normal workload at WWU, until she decided to formally found the nonprofit Kuntz and Company.

"It stopped being just Pam when I realized it would help in grants and donations," Kuntz says.

She obtained legal status for the nonprofit in 2010. She says she understands that making a tax-deductible donation is not only easier for many people, but sometimes the only way people can support the arts. Those types of donations are essential in allowing her to pay the dancers and performers who take 50 hours or more over a few short weeks to put together each production.

"The hardest part is being able to pay artists what they deserve," Kuntz says. "They're never paid as much as they should be. They don't do it to be paid, but they should be."

Through her work with community story telling, Kuntz met Rick Hermann, a resident living with Parkinson's disease. After a production Kuntz and Co. produced about another local theater icon living with the disease, Jim Lortz, Hermann approached Kuntz and asked to work with her.

The two created Hermann's own show and, though he had no formal dance training, Kuntz says he took to the art form like a fish to the sea.

"I was stunned how beautiful and graceful he was as a dancer, having never danced before," she says.

With Hermann's inspiration, suggestion and support, Kuntz started a weekly dance class for community members suffering from Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases. This is the fourth year she's offered the class.

"They're all learning, and all moving," Kuntz says. "There are no miracles in the room, I want to make that clear, but they have an understanding of each other's struggle."

One of Kuntz's more recent passions was a project centered on creating a space for local shows and rehearsals.

Kuntz was one of a dozen community members dedicated to creating a midsized theater in an empty retail space on Commercial Street. Though she and her husband became the face of the fundraising campaign, Kuntz says it was really the entire group that deserves credit for the two-year struggle to fund the space.

This summer, after the Commercial Street Theater project failed to meet their fundraising goal of at least $300,000, or about half the cost of putting in the stage and seating for the theater, the city revoked the lease and the group was forced to move on to other ideas.

"It wasn't wanted bad enough in the ways we wanted," Kuntz says. "None of us working on this are rich. If the community wants it, then they'll make it happen."

Though the plans for a theater in that specific space are now much less likely to come to fruition, many of the potential donors have since approached the group to ask if they'll still consider starting a midsized theater in town, Kuntz says.

"The efforts to create a space continue," she says. "We're asking those still interested, 'What can you contribute to keep this going? Help us figure it out.'"

Contact Samantha Wohlfeil at samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com or 360-756-2803.

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