The Puppet Network, producer of Broward’s Day of the Day celebration, is up for a People’s Choice Award

Arts / Article

Now through Nov. 15, five small South Florida arts organizations are vying for the Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice Award, offering a $20,000 prize. Below, Jim Hammond talks about why The Puppet Network should get your vote. To see the other nominees and to text to vote, visit knightarts.org/peopleschoice. Q. Why should your group win the People’s Choice Award?

A.  Shhhh..  We have a secret.  Everyone eventually dies… So how do we cope?

It’s something one may ignore, deny or just plain panic about when alone with their thoughts at night.

Every artist on our committee has lost someone important to them – a parent, a friend, a pet, a mentor, a child… And they all have chosen to celebrate their loved one’s life through the ancient tradition of  Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.  In our free, multidisciplinary cultural festival and creative workshops over the last four years, our team of artists have introduced thousands to this playful spectacle of remembrance that embraces our fears through the art of community.

Each participant is affected differently.  Personal workshop moments include the 42-year-old lawyer who picked up a paint brush for the first time since his third grade teacher said “You aren’t an artist,” through the 13-year-old girl who created a sugar skull mask with the words, “I love & miss you Mom” hand painted on the side.  Every participant has a story that runs deep in their heart and this event assists each of them in using the arts to help celebrate their loved ones lives.

Another important part of the event is how broad demographics all work together on the art projects and events.  Grandmothers who grew up with the tradition in Mexico work side by side with 20-something tattooed hipsters to create giant papier mache puppets together.  This is one of the few times you will ever experience this creative cross pollination in South Florida.  If we win the award, our programming to promote this celebration of loved ones and focus on building community will expand to other cities in South Florida.

Q. What would you do with the $20,000 prize? 

A. It’s all gonna be spent on additional programming during and leading up to the festival.  First, we will expand our free workshops to new community groups and art centers to reach a greater number of participants seeking creative outlets.  Next we plan to develop other traditional processionals that reflect international cultural festivals helping communities creatively cope with death.  Our first focus will be on traditions from Haiti, Germany and China.  Finally, part of the dollars will open Puppet Network’s 9,000 square-foot art space to other creatives in the community who want to develop free workshops and art projects presenting Day of the Dead traditions.

Q. What’s the best part of being an artist in South Florida?

A. South Florida is a reflection of the world.  We are a beautiful mosaic of cultures and traditions from a broad cross section of the planet.  It’s everything I love about New York City – only warmer!  As artists in the region, we have a plethora of textures and experiences to draw upon as we collaborate and create, thereby enhancing anything we could develop on our own.  Solo art is important – but our group of artists much prefer the collaboration that is currently a crucial part of the creative community in South Florida.

There is one challenge – sometimes it’s hard to build a connection with your neighbors.  The arts are key in developing this, and in a small way Puppet Network and Florida Day of the Dead Celebration strive to help build those bridges every day.  Memory for the Dead – Party for the Living.

To vote for the Puppet Network, text ARTS4 to 22333.