Detroit: Submit your idea to the Knight Arts Challenge!

From video art that shines a light on darkened city streets to an arts incubator and Hip-Hop Mardi Gras Parade, Detroiters have dreamed big, submitting fresh ideas to the Knight Arts Challenge.

With those projects taking shape in the city’s neighborhoods, the community-wide contest is now open for the third time – and seeking the best ideas for the arts in Detroit.

Submissions will be accepted through April 13.

Anyone can apply, as long as their idea follows three rules: The idea must be about art; the project must take place in or benefit Detroit; and grant recipients must find funds to match Knight’s commitment.

All it takes to apply is to form your pitch in 150 words, and submit it online here at

Detroit is a great fit for the challenge because creative people are building on the city’s cultural heritage to reimagine their hometown, said Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation’s vice president for arts.

“There’s a certain kind of energy that comes out of Detroit, a certain kind of we-can-do-it energy that is reflected in almost every idea submitted,” Scholl said. “People found the challenge liberating, because it’s not about Knight Foundation telling Detroit what to do. It’s Detroit telling Knight Foundation what it was interested in as a community.”

And they have; to date more than 2,000 ideas have been submitted, with 114 projects funded for a total of $5 million.

One of the winners, the cultural arts organization Heritage Works, is producing Cultural

Scripts, which brought two prominent choreographers, Kevin Jeff and Leyya Tawil, to Detroit. Last fall, they held movement-based workshops with the community, and from those they are creating dance pieces that reflect the city’s cultural traditions.

Students dancing with Heritage Works’ ‘Cultural Scripts’ program in Detroit

Heritage Works hopes the project explores and bridges cultural divides in one of the nation’s most segregated urban regions.

“There are positive rewards in embracing and sharing one’s own heritage, while recognizing that of others,” said Rhonda Greene, Heritage Works’ executive director.

The challenge win strengthened Heritage Works as an organization, Greene said.

 “It grew our capacity, our sense of self, because until we raised $50,000 to match we didn’t know we could,” Greene said. “So I think we have more of a sense of what’s possible whenever we decide to grow our individual gifts.”

Luisa Carrillo, president of the decade-old Ballet Folklorico Moyocoyani Izel, is using the $35,000 awarded in the 2014 Knight Arts Challenge for travel to Mexico to learn

dances indigenous to the La Huasteca region. Folklorico members, who range in age from 2 to 45, will perform the dances at several venues this year. The organization will also host professional dance instructors from Mexico to teach the pieces to the community.

“Detroit has a strong Mexican-American population, and there’s so much more to Mexican folklore than what many of them grew up with,” said Carrillo, a first-generation Mexican-American whose group won the challenge’s People’s Choice Award last fall. “I want to be able to teach them what they haven’t been exposed to, and to engage and be a part of what we’re doing.”

Mitch McEwen

Mitch McEwen’s idea was to buy and redesign a vacant house in southwest Detroit as an opera, performance and residential space in which community members collaborate with visiting artists. For that, Knight awarded McEwan Studio $10,000 last year. Inspired by the possibilities of uses for houses in Detroit, McEwen said the project is an exploration of performance, community and form. An architect by training, McEwen will gut the house and carve out a theater space. Beginning this fall, artist groups including the acclaimed collective HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? will stage new works that incorporate stories from the neighborhood.

“I chose southwest Detroit deliberately, because of the population growth and for more interesting reasons, like the presence of good small businesses, and because there’s a strong kind of artists’ community which integrates with graffiti art, the best graffiti art in Detroit of the last few years. I thought, something interesting is happening here.”

To lighten both the streets and sprits of some of Detroit’s neighborhoods, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History is developing an outdoor video art installation featuring the faces of some of the city’s elders. The works will be projected on the sides of buildings in two neighborhoods. A third, mobile installation will move around to other communities. In conjunction with a team of artists, filmmaker Julie Dash will produce the works, which should be ready by fall.

“It will be interesting to see if the installations give comfort to the community, or whether residents feel protected in their presence, or feel as though they have to be good around them,” said Juanita Moore, president and CEO of the museum, which is celebrating its 50th birthday. “Our elders in our community are always respected and looked up to.”

She said the $120,000 Knight award allowed project participants to get out in communities and make partners, and to learn the extent of a longstanding streetlight problem.

Moore said the project shows “you can use art and culture to help connect people, and get them to understand the quality of life they can have.” 

To find out more about the challenge, visit or attend one of the upcoming events:

Launch Party and Pitch Session:

Community Q&A sessions: