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How One Donor’s Love of Ailey has Lasted a Lifetime

Posted August 3, 2023

Dr. Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Ailey Legacy Circle Member, shares the story of her love for the Ailey organization and how she continues to support the long-standing institution. 

Dr. Barbara Cohen-Stratyner has been an Ailey donor since 1996, but her love for Ailey dates back to the 1960s when she attended high school in New York City. 

Like many New Yorkers, and Ailey fans, the first time she saw Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform was at the iconic and beloved New York City Center. “I spent a lot of time in the balcony of City Center watching dance, and always enjoyed the Ailey company and repertory. So, I made it a point to see them as much as possible ever since.” 

It was almost 30 years later that she began to take her connection to Ailey beyond just being an audience member. “When I was curating at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, we created an exhibition of the Ailey company that was designed to travel across the country. It allowed me to deep dive into the Company’s history. This was in the 90s and at that time so much of the Ailey administration had once been a member of the Company. It was very special to work with them. The exhibition we created traveled for two or three years.” Some stops this exhibition made included St. Louis, Kansas City, and the Anacostia Museum in Washington, D.C.   

Dr. Cohen-Stratyner served as the Curator of Exhibitions at the NYPL for the Performing Arts for 22 years, before a much-deserved retirement in 2016. It was in 1996, a few years into her role, that she began donating to Ailey. When she was reminded of the year that she made her first donation to Ailey, it triggered a memory:  

“That must have been around the time the exhibition returned home. Sharon Luckman was the Executive Director and Judith Jamison was Artistic Director. I felt secure supporting an organization with their leadership, and finally secure in my job! It took many years to get to that role as Curator.”  

I felt secure supporting an organization with [Sharon Luckman and Judith Jamison's] leadership.

When asked about her favorite Ailey ballet, she paused and then aptly noted, “Well, everybody’s favorite is Revelations.”

While working at the library she says, “We found as many recordings of Revelations as we could—it was enough to fill an entire day—and curated a day of panels with the dancers and leaders fans loved at that time. I remember Sylvia Waters sharing the difference in being taught to perform Revelations versus being taught to re-teach the ballet to other dancers. And we found a recording from a performance in Denmark that seemed to be a favorite, all of the Library staff would show up to watch "Rock-a My Soul" when that was showing.” 

It was in 2020 that Dr. Stratyner-Cohen took her relationship with Ailey one step further. “Like many others, I revisited my will. I felt that there were performing arts organizations I wanted to support. So, after caring for my family, I took the money and portioned it out. It felt comfortable, especially compared to giving an annual gift in the midst of the pandemic. I always felt connected to Ailey as an audience member and historian. After three decades working at museums and libraries, the donor relations landscape was familiar to me. I knew the importance of a planned gift, and an annual gift—even a small one.” 

I always felt connected to Ailey as an audience member and historian.

Her remarkable historical knowledge of Ailey is rare, but her choice to support the arts is one that many audience members can relate to. Dr. Stratyner-Cohen's generosity allows Ailey to plan for the future and have confidence that the Ailey mission to share dance with people around the world will prevail for years to come.  

Learn about the Ailey Legacy Circle

For questions about supporting Ailey’s annual programs, please contact or (212) 405-9600.  

Interview by Ailey Development Staff, Rayna Bagchi