$9 million arts grant program coming to Philadelphia

Posted: September 15, 2010

A three-year, $9 million grant program focused entirely on arts and culture in Philadelphia is to be announced Wednesday by the Knight Foundation, a Miami-based philanthropy.

Dubbed the Knight Arts Challenge - funding from the foundation must be matched from other sources - the program seeks applications focused on every arts sector and from individuals as well as organizations and institutions.

Dennis Scholl, Knight vice president for the arts, said the funding initiative really amounts to "a contest."

"We're saying, 'What's your best idea?' " Scholl said. "We're looking for the best ideas for the arts in Philadelphia. Come one, come all."

The unusual grantmaking program - Knight began with a Miami challenge three years ago; Philadelphia is the second such program - will officially begin Oct. 5. Applications may be submitted until Oct. 31.

There are only three rules for the challenge: The idea must be about the arts; the project must take place in or benefit Philadelphia; and grant recipients must find funds to match Knight's commitment.

Applications will be reviewed and winnowed by Knight officials and local artists and arts officials from a variety of disciplines. After the first stage of review, surviving applicants will be invited to submit more complete descriptions of their ideas and proposals.

Winners will be selected by the foundation and announced early next year; similar rounds of applications and reviews will follow in the subsequent two years.

"I think the most important thing is that we have an infusion of $9 million in the creation of art in our community at a time when resources are very scarce," said Tom Kaiden, president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. "It's a unique invitation to Philadelphia."

Scholl said there were no limits on the number of applications or ideas that may be submitted by individuals or organizations, nor would the foundation impose its own ideas of what would work best for Philadelphia. The advisory artists and officials reviewing applications will provide the necessary local expertise, he added.

"It would be presumptuous for us to tell Philadelphia what's an important, good idea for the arts in the city," Scholl said. "So we're asking them to tell us."

There is no limit on how much the foundation may bestow in a single grant, but each dollar given must be matched by funding from other sources. Ideas may come from for-profit groups as well as nonprofits. In Miami, they have ranged from creating huge, inflatable outdoor sculptures to staging a series of gospel concerts to establishing an institute for local independent filmmakers.

"The idea is to spur both creative approaches to making art, and innovation in connecting art to community and audience," said Gary Steuer, the city's cultural officer.

The Knight program "in effect provides risk capital to arts groups, helping them to move in new directions that they might otherwise be cautious about," Steuer wrote in an e-mail. "By being structured as a matching program, it will also help leverage new local support for the arts.

"We need to be open to supporting the best work and the best ideas, wherever they may come from," Steuer wrote.

Scholl said Philadelphia was selected for the second arts challenge because the city has an "extraordinary pool of art assets" and is "showing a lot of momentum" both in art produced and attention being directed to it.

Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com.

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