Small But Mighty Arts Grant was partially funded with a $60,000 grant by the Knight Arts Challenge, a project from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that gives money to individuals and organizations to engage community through the arts. "Here's an idea that came from an artist to help other artists, and here's someone who knows how helpful those grants can be to an artist," said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the Knight Foundation's Philadelphia program director. "She understands what they go through."
Now comes the hard part, though. It's now up to Hawthorne to raise a matching $60,000, which is why she'll be spending the rest of the summer fund-raising and blogging about her progress at smallbutmightyarts.org.
Hawthorne was familiar with the power microgrants even before she applied to the Knight Arts Challenge. She saw their effects as the head of marketing and outreach for Trolley Car Diner and Cafe, whose owner, Ken Weinstein, founded the Mount Airy Teachers' Fund to give out small sums of money to area teachers. Through her own research — she surveyed 67 artists — Hawthorne found that 81 percent of those she spoke with subsidized their work via money earned from other jobs or savings, and 80 percent said they have not pursued a project due to lack of funds.
It's facts like these that make her hate the phrase "starving artist." "There's this idea that artists are just sitting on their porch barefoot with their guitar just twiddling their thumbs and trying to figure out what to do next," Hawthorne said. The artists whom Hawthorne knows are no thumb-twiddling guitar-strummers. "The artists I know aren't starving, they're working their a---s off. They're turning that back into fertilizer for their work. Small but mighty is a empowering statement. It's not, ‘I'm small so please help me.' It's, ‘I'm small but I'm strong and if you help me, I'm stronger.' "
Arts organizations and well-established artists are usually the most familiar with the grant process, and are therefore most often able to get the money they need. But most individual artists, especially those just starting out, often don't have access to the same philanthropic sources. Those who work in genres that haven't traditionally gotten grants often find it even more difficult. "I don't know a DJ or turntablist who can get a grant per se," Hawthorne said.
"With any kind of investment, it's risk capital. Sometimes you'll invest in an artist to just get them over the hump and that piece might turn out to be spectacular," Gary Steuer, chief cultural officer of the city of Philadelphia for the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. "It's similar to the kinds of the investments that foundations make on a larger scale. This basically gives that same opportunity to an individual."
There are similar projects that give out small grants. Philly Stake, for example, has organizations present their project to groups of diners who vote on which project to give the proceeds of the event. There are also programs like the Leeway Foundation, which try to target certain groups of artists, like women and artists of color. Small But Mighty Arts Grant recipients will be chosen by a five- or six-person advisory board, drawing people from diverse backgrounds. "They all have one thing in common: They're all passionate about the arts in Philadelphia and independent artists as well," Hawthorne said. She decided against joining her yet-unchosen advisory board so she could be more of an advocate for the program, and so it wouldn't appear that she was playing favorites to artist friends.
Many artists have turned to the Internet to crowd-source projects, on sites like Kickstarter (there have been 600 local projects that have sought funding on Kickstarter since it began in 2009). Hawthorne thinks that as long as an artist gets the money she needs, the means of funding is a success. "What I know about crowd-sourcing is that it relies on artists actually having or building an actual ‘crowd' made of friends, family or supporters to give funds," Hawthorne said. "Artists that apply for our grants may just have started to build a following, or would like to use the funding to create a product or project that would then allow them to go after larger funds such as a crowd-sourcing effort like Kickstarter."
Steuer said the impact of Hawthorne's program could be huge, not just for artists, but for the city itself, by bolstering the creative economy (see related article). The more artistic opportunities there are in a city, the more attractive it becomes, he said.
Hawthorne knows about this from experience. Sitting in a Minneapolis office, listening to the sounds of the now-defunct, yet still-legendary Five Spot (featuring the likes of Floetry, the Roots, Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott) via Internet radio, she was blown away by the creativity coming out of Philadelphia. So when it came time to get a graduate degree in African-American studies, Temple University became more attractive. "I was like, ‘What are they drinking in the water there? I want to drink it, too!' " Hawthorne said.
When Hawthorne first moved to Philly, she was impressed by how quickly a newbie was accepted into the community. Now, she wants to give back to that community.
"I feel like I've come full circle. The [Knight] grant is really surreal because I very purposefully wanted to come here and be an artist. I very purposefully want to be part of the scene, nurturing what is typically the underground to bring it above ground because I realize how important it is to a city and community to have that," Hawthorne said. "Something happens in the air in Philly and you automatically become ubertalented. I don't know what it is. I'm just glad I'm breathing it." n
Contact Molly Eichel at 215-854-5909 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @mollyeichel. Read her blog posts at www.philly.com/entertainment.