Visual Arts

South Florida artists vie for $20,000 prize in Knight Foundation’s People’s Choice Awards

Four local arts organizations will compete for the Knight Foundation’s People’s Choice Awards.
Four local arts organizations will compete for the Knight Foundation’s People’s Choice Awards. Knight Foundation

Art lovers in South Florida and beyond now have the opportunity to use their texting thumbs for a good cause — the Knight Foundation’s campaign kickoff for its text-to-vote Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice Award.

Four grassroots arts collectives are vying for the competition’s $20,000 prize, as well as a challenge grant from the Knight Foundation.

“Knight Foundation looks for the best ideas that will help engage our community through the arts,” wrote Victoria Rogers, vice president of the Knight Foundation’s arts subdivision. “For the People’s Choice Award, we look to highlight the work of South Florida’s smaller, lesser-known organizations.”

The organizations competing for the prize were chosen from a pool of 73 finalists in the Knight Arts Challenge South Florida. They are:

▪ Artefactus Cultural Project, a Hispanic organization that gives children the opportunity to craft an original play from start to finish.

▪ Delou Africa, a Little Haiti-based organization that seeks to bridge cultural gaps and preserve African traditions through dance and music.

▪ Miami Girls Rock Camp, a volunteer-based summer day camp that seeks to empower young girls through collaborative songwriting and performance.

▪ Rise Up Gallery, which provides therapeutic art workshops to spinal-cord injury victims.

“When you look at the contenders, they’re very different,” said Lisa Palley, publicist for the Knight Foundation’s arts subdivision. “We have unique needs and unique problems, so these are South Florida organizations working for South Florida.”

If South Florida is a melting pot of Latin culture, Artefactus Cultural Project is the seasoning that binds it all together.

Founded in March 2008 by Eddy Diaz Souza, a Cuban immigrant, Artefactus is a multifaceted nonprofit organization that promotes culture throughout Miami’s Latin community by producing events, including book readings and art exhibitions, with a special focus on youth.

Souza said he hopes to connect second-generation Hispanics with their heritage using theater as his primary tool.

“We found that Miami’s Hispanic youth populations for whom we work do not find artistic representations that reflect the experience of their community; that is, shows that connect them with the stories of their families, their traditions and cultural roots,” Souza wrote in an email.

That is where “Tales of Miami” will come in, he said: Artefactus plans to unite young creatives — actors, musicians, writers and others — to produce a play that will recount the stories of those who’ve relocated to South Florida from various Latin countries.

“This project is an opportunity to hear the voice of the community in a city that is continually recomposed and where there are so few cultural options for children,” Souza wrote.

“One dance, many movements. One rhythm, many beats. One universe, many cultures” is the motto Delou Africa goes by, said its artistic director, Njeri Plato.

“Because we deal with so many different heritages and different cultures across South Florida, we teach a universal language,” Plato said, referring to Delou’s use of dance and music to introduce, preserve and celebrate African heritage. “Once we bring that to the community and wherever we go, there are no barriers.”

Each year, the nonprofit organization hosts workshops, concerts and festivals that spotlight various aspects of African culture. African Diaspora Dance and Drum Festival of Florida, a heritage festival that features traditional African instruments and dance, is one example. Delou Africa hopes to expand the festival if it emerges victorious in the People’s Choice Awards.

“There is an energy flowing through us right now that will help us win this,” Njeri said. “If we don’t win, we still won.”

The first set of instructions at Miami Girls Rock Camp: Replace the words “I’m sorry” with “I rock.”

“Girls are constantly apologizing for themselves when they don’t need to, so our goal is to shift that language,” said Steph Taylor, co-founder of Miami Girls Rock Camp, where girls ages 8 through 17 learn, among other things, how to play instruments, write music and perform.

Emma Hunt, 8, said the lingo took some getting used to, but by the end of the camp’s weeklong session, “[I learned] that I don’t have to say I’m sorry so much.”

“Everything we did at camp was with a message of empowerment and self-worth,” said Taylor, who founded the camp in September 2014 with the help of fellow musician Emile Milgrim and Heather Burdick, a high school English teacher and activist.

“Sprinkled into all of that,” Taylor went on, “we did workshops that ranged from history of women in music, self-defense, zine-making and sound design.”

Taylor hopes to secure a space for next summer’s camp, subsidize camp tuition for families who can’t afford the $100 fee and expand its scope with the prize money from the Knight Arts Challenge.

“It would make a world of difference in how we can grow the camp and impact the next generation of girls in our community if we were to win.”

A car accident in 1999 confined Tatiana Ribeiro to a hospital bed for more than 60 days — and a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Today, she credits her injury and her subsequent involvement with Rise Up Gallery with bringing her closer to her 7-year-old son, Mateo.

“It created a bond between me and him,” Ribeiro said. “Rise Up has given me and other people with disabilities a moment that you can share with your loved ones.”

Established in 2010 by New Jersey native David McCauley, a spinal-cord injury survivor himself, Rise Up Gallery provides art therapy workshops for those who’ve suffered paralysis-inducing ailments, as well as a space in Little Haiti dubbed the Laundromat, in which local artists can craft and display their work.

“When people come into the workshops that we do at the hospital, they might’ve been in a car accident a few weeks ago … and their lives have been turned upside down,” McCauley said. “And in that way, the workshops are a metaphor for life. If you’re incapable of doing something a certain way, you figure out another way to do it.”

McCauley says that he hopes to expand Rise Up’s programs and services to offer workshops to larger groups and additional exhibition areas for artists.

“I hope that inspires them to kind of get over whatever challenge they’re dealing with.”

To cast your vote

The 2015 Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice Awards text-to-vote campaign began Wednesday, Oct. 20. To cast your vote, text your preferred nominee’s code to 22333 before 11:59 p.m. Nov. 17:

▪ For Artefactus Cultural Project, text ART1 to 22333.

▪ For Delou Africa, text ART2 to 22333.

▪ For Miami Girls Rock Camp, text ART3 to 22333.

▪ For Rise Up Gallery, text ART4 to 22333. “We may not see them in the media everyday,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president of Knight Foundation’s arts subdivision. “But organizations like these four nominees continuously have an impact on our lives and neighborhoods.”

Winners of the Knight Awards Challenge grant and People’s Choice Award will be announced on Nov. 30.