Teo Castellanos felt he had won an Oscar when he garnered the People’s Choice and Knight Art Challenge awards last year.
The People’s Choice Award highlights small and emerging groups in South Florida and is part of the Knight Arts Challenge, a communitywide contest funding the best ideas for the arts.
“It’s one of the highlights of my life,” said Castellanos, 52, who won $45,000 from both awards.
Castellanos used the money to hone his skills as a writer by attending writing retreats. The retreat paid off — he has just finished starring in Third Trinity, a one-many play based on the story he wrote about his two brothers, one a Puerto Rico nationalist and the other who was jailed in Miami on drug charges. The play received critical acclaim when it debuted last month at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse.
Voting for this year’s People’s Choice Award is underway. More than 1,000 people applied for the Knights Art Challenge, 75 were chosen as finalists, and six were invited to participate in the People’s Choice Award. The public can vote for the winner by texting a nominee’s code to 22333 until 11:59 p.m. Nov. 17.
The winner, to be announced Dec. 1, will receive $20,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to further their arts program.
Here is a look at the six nominees, whose work spans Broward to Key West:
FATVillage Arts District
FATVillage Arts District, the only Broward-based arts organization in the contest, provides artists and curators the opportunity to create and exhibit large-scale, experimental works. The group wants to expand programming and have daily operating hours to promote its growth.
Currently, exhibitions held at The Projects, a contemporary art center in the FATVillage Arts District, run only a few times throughout the year.
“What we’ve seen from the popularity of our monthly Artwalks is that our community is hungry for more culture,” said Peter Symons, co-gallery director of The Projects. “By expanding our impact, we can help nurture this cultural interest into a cultural passion.”
Leah Brown, co-gallery director of the Projects, plans to use the awards to help spur the arts community in Broward.
“Our dream for Fort Lauderdale is to become synonymous with cutting edge contemporary art,” said Brown. “We see the role of The Projects being a vanguard space that pushes artists, frees curators and inspires the public.”
HICCUP, which stands for Hialeah contemporary culture project, is comprised of people devoted to social practice art.
“We want to spearhead the creativity that exists in Hialeah,” said Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, founder of the organization.
The group brainstorms and research projects that will ultimately help the community. The HICCUP tabloid, an eight-page free bimonthly bulletin distributed through Hialeah, consists of photos, local news, crossword puzzles and a bilingual column.
Although its projects take place throughout the city, HICCUP would like an office to develop a presence and hold meetings.
The Afro-Cuban dance company has been around since 1996.
“I think what we bring to the community is so unique,” said Neri Torres, the artistic director and choreographer. “It reflects the diversity of Miami.”
The dance community aims to promote Afro-Cuban culture through the performing arts, particularly dance and music.
If it wins, Ife-Ile would use the money to enhance its annual festival, which has been around for 16 years, and boost community activities.
Key West Art & Historical Society
Key West may not be big, but it is teeming with history and art. The Key West Art & Historical Society hopes to bring the small island’s rich culture into local elementary school classrooms.
With funding, the art and historical society would visit fourth grade classes to help them understand and appreciate their home. Classroom visits would take a look at some of the area’s most famous residents, including the late author Ernest Hemingway, former president Harry Truman and the late playwright Tennessee Williams.
“We really want to help develop the history and arts curriculum and bring museums into the classroom,” said Christine Nottage, development director. “This support could help us push that forward and make it a strong, sustaining program.”
Nottage says the idea for the program came after the non-profit organization met with Monroe County administrators and educators to discuss how the Society could become involved in schools.
“The thing we kept hearing is that the arts and history are really needing some help because of budget cuts,” Nottage said.
Swampspace, an alternative exhibit space in Miami’s Design District, strives to further the work of local artists.
Funding would enable the venue, which began in 2008, to continue to support developing artists, including students from the New World School of the Arts and Design Architecture Senior High.
Launched by artist Oliver Sanchez, the space hosts monthly shows featuring a diverse community of artists.
“There are overlooked artists,” Sanchez said. “There are people who don’t even consider themselves artists.”
Sanchez says the opportunity would give artists confidence to navigate the art world.
“I am honored to be nominated,” Sanchez said. “It gives me a lot of confidence and it is nice to be recognized.’’
Mexican American Council
For more than 30 years, the Mexican American Council has worked to promote cultural awareness.
The cultural and educational organization hopes to continue to expand its outreach with a Mariachi school for local children.
The primary focus of the council has been education; this will continue to develop that, said president Maria Garza.
“This is somewhere where the child is going to be able to excel, and feel proud that they belong something,” Garza said. “They feel they can contribute in their daily education because their self esteem grows.”
The free academy would service the migrant family community, as many parents don’t have the means to send their children to costly enrichment classes.
“We are going to have something we call our own and that something is going to be the Mariachi music school,” Garza said.
How to vote
To vote, the public can text a nominee’s code to 22333 in the United States or 747-444-3548 toll-free, through 11:59 p.m. Nov. 17.
▪ FATVillage Arts District: Text VOTE1 to 22333
▪ HICCUP: Text VOTE2 to 22333
▪ Ife-Ile: Text VOTE3 to 22333
▪ Key West Art and Historical Society: Text VOTE4 to 22333
▪ Swampspace: Text VOTE5 to 22333
▪ Mexican American Council: Text VOTE6 to 22333
More information on the projects and videos are posted at knightarts.org/peopleschoice.