Akron, here’s what we’re looking for in the first Knight Arts Challenge

Arts Program Director Bahia Ramos responds to questions in Akron.

Akron, you have two more weeks to craft that submission for the Knight Arts Challenge, which is offering $1 million a year through 2017 for the best ideas for the arts.  The initial application is just 150 words. You’ve got this, right? IMPORTANT AKRON DATES

• Sept. 8, noon – Univ. of Akron (RSVP here) • Sept. 8, 3 p.m. – Kent State Univ. (RSVP here) • Sept. 10, noon – Virtual Office Hours for Akron (RSVP here) • Sept. 14 – APPLICATION DEADLINE (apply here)

To help, Arts Program Director Bahia Ramos spent three nights last week meeting with artists and creatives from around the city to answer questions, including why Knight launched this effort. The challenge’s goal, Ramos said: To fund ideas and experiments that not only inspire the people who live in Akron, but to bring people together in a way that strengthens and builds community.

In doing so, Knight wants to add more momentum to the artistic activity in Akron, Ramos said.

“We are not here by accident. The creative energy is bubbling up from the grassroots and institutions alike,” Ramos said. “With the challenge, we want to give a bigger voice to the energy we feel is happening here.”

Here are some of the tips and insights on crafting applications that Ramos offered during the community Q&A sessions:

Consider the 3 C’s of your application: Be clear, concise and compelling: You only have 150 words to fill out the initial application at Make them count. “What we care about is your idea, your passion for the arts, who you are and why you feel this is a unique opportunity for the community,” Ramos said.

Don’t use “grantspeak:” This is not about hiring a professional grant writer to cater your application to foundation program officers. If that’s how you or your organization typically functions, you need to escape that mindset. “Think, I am a person with a great idea for my community, and this is a great way to share my idea with people equally as passionate,” Ramos said.

Knight doesn’t want to hear about how much money you’d like – just yet: The challenge is a two-step process: The first round is a 150-word explanation of your idea, due before 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 14. In those 150 words, don’t mention how much money you plan to request. The first round, the hardest round to get through, is all about your idea. If you become a finalist, Knight will ask for a full proposal, which includes a budget and other detailed information.

Detroit’s dance legacy: the Jit. Photo: Andrew Potter for Knight Foundation.

Do keep Akron, your community, at the center of our work: The challenge looks for ideas that are authentically Akron, Ramos said. Think about “things that uniquely represent your community, that no one else can do,” Ramos said. In Miami, for example, Knight funded an artist residency at Stiltsville, a community of homes that towers above the water on stilts on Biscayne Bay, allowing artists to be inspired by South Florida’s beauty. In Detroit, one winner used challenge funds to finish a documentary on the Jit, a dance native to Detroit, and to hold a community celebration for the premiere. “Think of things that uniquely represent your community that no one else can do,” Ramos said.

Remember Knight’s arts program focuses on artistic excellence and audience engagement: Does your project reflect high-quality artistic activities? How does it engage the community? Consider both as you plan your submission. You can read more about Knight’s philosophy on funding in the arts in a recent report on the arts program, “Building Community Through Innovations in the Arts. “

This is a challenge, but don’t consider it a competition: Encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to apply. The more voices at play in the Knight Arts Challenge, the more the community benefits. “This is a vehicle for every voice to be heard,” Ramos said, urging the crowd to tell neighbors and friends about the challenge. “We want to see the full constellation of artistic values and voices in Akron, and that means everyone has to play.” 

And here’s one last piece of advice from Ramos: “Write about something that gives us a sense of wonder and irreverence and joy and is uniquely yours. When we go through the list, those are the ones that stand out for us.”

On that note, head over to to submit your idea. The deadline is Sept. 14.

Marika Lynch is a communications consultant for Knight Foundation