dennis-scholl_web.jpgIn an effort to add more art to the blossoming cultural scene in South Florida, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will fund intriguing, fresh ideas from the public.

Through the Knights Arts Challenge, artists of all genres – those interested in art and not-for-profit organizations – can fill voids or enhance the arts landscape.

This year’s deadline is Monday, March 15.
“We have gone from a cultural wasteland to a cultural destination, and we want to make sure we encourage the momentum that is happening in the South Florida arts scene,” said Dennis Scholl, executive director of the Knight Foundation, which created the five-year grant initiative.

The burgeoning arts scene is evident with Art Basel Miami Beach finishing its eight year, North Miami Beach’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s expansion, several neighborhoods sustaining gallery walk nights, and most recently the opening of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.

“Everyone is eligible: sculptors, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, architects, ethnographers, dancers, painters, printmakers, glass blowers, gardeners … all are welcome to put their ideas to paper,” reads a statement from challenge representatives.

And sometimes ideas can come from those who understand culturally what is needed.

Gepsie Metellus, executive director of Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Services, said she “thought outside of the box” when she proposed a Haitian Jazz series, which won a grant through the Knight Arts Challenge in 2008.

Metellus won a grant for $80,000 for two years, and has so far, put on four concerts at the Haitian Cultural Center. A concert is in the works that would have a fundraising component for Haiti earthquake victims, she said.

“Haitian jazz is one of the products in the Haitian repertoire, and we thought it would have a lot of interest,” Mettelus said. “We thought people would be curious, and we hit the nail on the head about both assumptions.”

Metellus’ experience writing grants helped her to put together the necessary information to win the grant which, at the onset, isn’t very much.

A clever proposal in 2009 by the United Negro College Fund and Florida Memorial University paid off when they jointly received a grant for the university's steel band, which paid for scholarships, competition entrance fees and travel associated with competing. Free Gospel Sundays at the Arsht Center is put on by a challenge winner.

Individuals are encouraged to seek a grant if they think they have a winning idea. Scholl said he reads all the entries.

Last year, the challenge received 1,500 entries and funded 31. This year, the challenge is divvying up $4 million. The average award is $100,000 to $200,000, though recipients have received as little as $15,000, Scholl said.

Before applying, the challenge organizers ask that you meet three basic criteria: The idea should be about the arts; it should benefit South Florida; and you should raise or have matching funds.

“There are lots of ways to match, even though it seems hard at first,” Scholl said. “We just don’t want to put the money in the community and the community doesn’t put something in it.”

Winner Gean Moreno asked the artists who used his book as their “exhibition space” to donate the works, and used their contribution as his matching funds for his $30,000 grant. Moreno has published two, hard-cover books filled with Miami artists and their works. The artists decide what they want to put into the book, and he provides the framework for display.

Moreno said he received a lot of support from the challenge in executing his vision. He married his two interests, arts and books, and came up with his 1,000-word initial proposal. Now he feels like a bona-fide businessman, with a marketing team behind him.

“I was intrigued that they were willing to field any idea,” Moreno said. “At the very least, I have a business education I never had. They helped me to figure out realistic budgets and numbers. They try to showcase my project whenever the opportunity arose. They have been good about pumping project and putting it out there.”

To apply, visit

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Dennis Scholl