By Molly Eichel
WHEN ERICA HAWTHORNE, a/k/a RhapsodE, was making her album "Spoken Inward," she was put in a tough position. With limited funds — meaning limited time in a studio — she had to choose. She could perfect a song or not go into
Hawthorne knows firsthand how far a couple hundred bucks can take an artist. It's why she thought up her innovative microgrant program, Small But Mighty Arts Grant, which gives Philly artists — from painters to DJs to spoken-word phenoms — a chance to receive from $200 to $1,000 to help with a project that will significantly affect their careers. That could mean anything from buying a tube of paint to printing up business cards to creating a portfolio. "I love the Margaret Mead quote that says, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.' I really believe in that," Hawthorne said while sipping iced coffee at Reeds Coffee and Tea House in Powelton Village. "It's a collection of really small steps that make an impact. It's five fingers that make a fist."
Small But Mighty Arts Grant was partially funded with a $60,000 grant by the Knight Arts Challenge, a project from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that gives money to individuals and organizations to engage community through the arts. "Here's an idea that came from an artist to help other artists, and here's someone who knows how helpful those grants can be to an artist," said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the Knight Foundation's Philadelphia program director. "She understands what they go through."
Now comes the hard part, though. It's now up to Hawthorne to raise a matching $60,000, which is why she'll be spending the rest of the summer fund-raising and blogging about her progress at smallbutmightyarts.org.
Hawthorne was familiar with the power microgrants even before she applied to the Knight Arts Challenge. She saw their effects as the head of marketing and outreach for Trolley Car Diner and Cafe, whose owner, Ken Weinstein, founded the Mount Airy Teachers' Fund to give out small sums of money to area teachers. Through her own research — she surveyed 67 artists — Hawthorne found that 81 percent of those she spoke with subsidized their work via money earned from other jobs or savings, and 80 percent said they have not pursued a project due to lack of funds.
It's facts like these that make her hate the phrase "starving artist." "There's this idea that artists are just sitting on their porch barefoot with their guitar just twiddling their thumbs and trying to figure out what to do next," Hawthorne said. The artists whom Hawthorne knows are no thumb-twiddling guitar-strummers. "The artists I know aren't starving, they're working their a---s off. They're turning that back into fertilizer for their work. Small but mighty is a empowering statement. It's not, ‘I'm small so please help me.' It's, ‘I'm small but I'm strong and if you help me, I'm stronger.' "
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.