Today, Knight Foundation is launching the first Knight Arts Challenge Akron, offering $1 million to the best ideas for the arts. It’s open to everyone in the city with an arts idea – be they a nonprofit, a business or an individual artist. To help applicants, I sat down with Arts Program Director Bahia Ramos to talk about what Akron residents can expect. (Above photo: YEPAW concert by Garrick Black.)
Q. Knight Foundation has brought the Challenge to several cities. Why is Akron ripe for this kind of initiative?
A. Akron has a great ecosystem of lovely anchor arts institutions, plus a lot of great cultural start-ups. We look at things like the Akron Art Museum and events like Porch Rokr, and you start to see people taking part at all levels in the arts in Akron. This contest starting now is a way to grow those opportunities for arts and culture.
Q. Here’s the $1 million question: What kind of ideas are you looking for?
A. We are looking for ideas that authentically represent Akron – as a place, as a cultural inspiration. We want projects that speak to the vibrancy we see building in the city. It’s not about what I think – the whole premise of this challenge is that we’re looking for the voice of the community. Knight’s role is not to come in and dictate what projects should be. It’s about creating a vehicle for the best dreams of the cultural community to become reality, whether that’s coming from an institution, an individual artist, a business or a collective of artists. We are hoping this challenge inspires them to dream big and think how arts and culture weave into the fabric of the community and bring people together.
Bahia Ramos, Arts Program Director
Q. What advice would you give people as they sit down to write their 150-word submission?
A. Be brief. If you can’t say it in 150 words, that’s a problem. You need to keep it simple so that when our group of readers review your idea, everyone can understand the point you are trying to get across.
At the same time, be inspiring. We want to hear your passion for your project come through. Make sure you can express what is unique or different about your idea. That’s how you’re going to stand out.
Q. What’s on the no-no list for the challenge?
A. Don’t ask for general operating support. This is an ideas contest. It’s for something that is bold, unique and exciting, and that’s what we encourage and what we support.
Q. Who determines who wins? What’s the process?
A. We are assisted by a team of readers who are local, who come from a range of creative backgrounds from individuals to institutional leaders. They read every application submitted. From there, we pick a smaller group of finalists, who submit full proposals. That’s how you go from a 150-word idea to a budget. It’s a write-up of how this idea can take place and exactly how it will come to be. The readers then score those proposals and we recommend winners to Knight Foundation’s board of trustees.
Q. You recently visited Akron to talk with people about the challenge. What’s impressed you the most about the cultural community?
A. Their openness, and willingness to go on this risky journey with us. Residents of Akron want to contribute to the cultural growth of their city, and believe the Arts Challenge creates a space for them to come together and do just that – from students to new leaders, young business owners and established leadership. It was nice to see everyone come together under that umbrella and take part in helping to move the cultural community forward and engage people in new ways.
Q. What final thought do you want to leave people with?
A. If you want to learn more about what kind of projects Knight funds, take a look at a report we published earlier this year that highlights some great stories. Also, we will be in town for Q&A sessions later this month. We’re happy to be present for folks. I say this jokingly but mean it: if you want to invite me over to your house for dinner to talk about the challenge, I will come.
Meet Ramos at an upcoming Community Q&A session:
· 5:30 p.m., Aug. 24: Akron Urban League, 440 Vernon Odom Blvd., Akron, RSVP
· 5:30 p.m., Aug. 25: Mustard Seed Cafe, 867 W. Market St., Akron RSVP
· 5:30 p.m., Aug. 26: Akron Art Museum, 1 S. High St., Akron, RSVP