South Floridians can voice their choice and vote on one of the five arts organizations vying for the first Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice Award.
The winner will receive $20,000 to work on a project to broaden the region’s cultural map.
“It’s a vehicle that gives flight to new ideas,” said Matt Haggman, Miami program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “If someone has a new arts idea, they apply to the Knight Arts Foundation and they can get money to give flight to their idea. It helps accelerate creativity and gives opportunity to artists across our city to be able to act on their ideas.”
Four of the five organizations – 6th Street Dance Studio, FUNDarte, LAB Miami and Urgent, Inc. – are in the city of Miami. Arts Garage is in Delray Beach in Palm Beach County.
Each of the nominees has a video posted at KnightArts.org/peopleschoice. Voters can send a text message to the number on the website to choose their favorite. Votes can be cast through Oct. 22. Winners will be announced Dec. 3.
6th Street Dance Studio
Nestled in Little Havana, the 6th Street Dance Studio provides space for performing artists for class study, workshops, rehearsals and performance.
If the studio wins the grant, it would “broaden and support the TruSchool hip-hop program for kids by incorporating new forms of dance, writing and cultural events,” according to the video posted at KnightArts.org
Even though the money will be useful for the dance studio, founder Brigid Baker said she will not wait for the money to accomplish the studio’s goals.
“I don’t wait for money, I build things on volunteer basis until I can pay for it,” said Baker, who has been dancing for 43 years. “I set it up, and I figure out how to pay for it later. I don’t have debts here.”
The studio has expanded to the Overtown area. Should the studio be awarded the grant, Baker wants to set up a bus system to shuttle students between Little Havana and Overtown.
“Most of the children have so much trouble getting here,” Baker said.
The money will also help pay teachers and to expand the program for more students.
“The studio is open 24 hours a day. Everyone in the neighborhood knows who we are. It’s essential to me that we know the parents and the neighbors, too,” she said. “There’s no getting around the community for me.”
Text 1 to 305-767-2200 to vote for the 6th Street Dance Studio.
Arts Garage Executive Director Alyona Ushe believes the venue she works at has a certain charm.
Created in November 2010, the Arts Garage came about after Delray Beach converted the lower level of a city parking garage into a cozy space to host cultural and arts events.
“The venue itself is very special, it has pulse or heartbeat of its own,” Ushe said. “It’s this intimate gem that you get to feel legendary artists up close and personal and up and coming artists without seeing the difference between the two.”
Eventually she will help move the current space to the future location, a 10,000 square-foot venue.
“The idea is to bring all the art disciplines together and bring creative juices together under one roof and one stage,” Ushe said. “We want to feature legendary artists and give them a voice. We want to become a place where artists come create, and for this to become a destination for artists and their patrons.”
Should they receive the funds from the grant, Ushe says they will look to invest in individual talent. The Arts Garage features artists from jazz, the blues, classical, hip-hop, along with film, art, dance and visual arts.
Just as diverse as the art forms practiced at the Arts Garage is Ushe’s background. Originally from the former Soviet Union, Ushe spent most of her adult life in Washington, D.C. Before moving to Delray Beach, she lived in New Orleans.
“We represent fantastic talent, whether they have decades and decades of experience or just coming out of school, the incredible talent is what we showcase,” Ushe said.
Text 2 to 305-767-2200 to vote for the Arts Garage.
Ever Chavez founded FUNDarte in 2003, nearly 10 years ago, when he saw the need for contemporary Hispanic work in music, theater, dance, film and visual arts.
“We saw the hunger of the artists here waiting for those performances like the ones that we knew,” Chavez said in an interview conducted in Spanish.
Originally from Havana, Chavez moved to Miami in 2000.
“Here you are more free, more independent. There is no censorship, and you can do whatever you think is best for the community,” Chavez said. “But, being independent you are responsible for everything and for finding money for your work.”
Chavez, if awarded the money, hopes to “strengthen the local performing arts by providing seed funding for new works for local companies and artists,” according to the video posted on the KnightArts.org page.
He hopes to show new artists the steps needed in order to succeed, similar to those he learned when he first came from Cuba.
“We teach them the steps, and how they will present the art,” Chavez said.
Text 3 to 305-767-2200 to vote for FUNDarte.
Wilfredo Fernandez, co-founder of LAB Miami, helped start the collaborative workspace for entrepreneurs and creative professionals along with the help of two high school classmates.
Elisa Rodriguez-Vila and Daniel Lafuente, also co-founders of LAB Miami, all began the project nearly a year ago.
The three knew each other in middle school and later attended high school at Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove. After attending college out of Miami, the trio returned to Miami.
“We decided to go back to Miami and give back to the community and try to make it a place where young and old talent can get together and start businesses,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said they were drawn to the Wynwood community, which is where their space is.
“It was amazing to see how it’s evolved here in the past five years. It’s one of the most unique neighborhoods in the world. It’s got amazing energy, we love working here.”
Should they receive the grant, their plan is to bring together creative professionals and “techies” for a three-day art “hack-a-thon.” They will develop applications and websites to enhance the delivery of local art to users. “Our mission is to grow,” Fernandez said.
Text 4 to 305-767-2200 to vote for LAB Miami.
On the door of Urgent, Inc.’s Overtown’s headquarters, reads the organization’s statement, “Empowering young minds to transform their communities.”
In 2007, Emily Gunter was invited to serve as the organization’s director. Gunter, who runs the after-school program and helps with the rites of passage and inter-generational programs for grandparents and their grandchildren, believes that her work is transforming the area.
“It really feeds my life,” Gunter said. “This is so exciting. At 64, a lot of my peers are no longer able to give and only receive because of their health. Being with the children keeps me young.”
A mother of four grown children, Gunter, who lives in Overtown, is a retired engineer and teacher.
Gunter is leading the mural project at Dorsey Park, 1701 NW First Ave. The project includes murals painted by young local artists portraying the baseball greats from the Negro League, including star pitcher Satchel Paige. During the days of segregation, Dorsey Park was the only place Negro and Cuban players were allowed to play ball.
Gunther’s son, artist/illustrator Kadir Nelson, is the author and artist behind the award-winning book, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball Told Through the Original Paintings.
Should the organization win the grant, she hopes to continue to work with young artists to create murals. They launched the fall youth mural program on Friday.
“It helps them to know their history and who they are, especially in this neighborhood,” she said. “Someone said to me the other day that this art project has been one of the most popular things in Overtown, especially happening to the children.”
Text 5 to 305-767-2200 to vote for Urgent, Inc.