How to Win a Grant From the Knight Foundation: Tips From the Inside

Categories: Art
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Tatiana Hernandez
Does Miami inspire you? Are you filled with creative motivation? Do you ever find yourself daydreaming about making a difference in South Florida's art community? It's okay to admit it; for a change, we're not here to mock you. Thanks to the Knight Foundation, you actually can make a difference.

This week, the Knight Foundation began taking applications for the fifth annual Knight Arts Challenge -- a contest open to the entire South Florida community with a mission of finding the best ideas benefiting and inspiring our art scene. In just four years, the Knight Foundation has invested close to $19 million in projects for the challenge -- an amount that will be doubled in matching funds by our local art supporters.

Miami's artist-driven groups have made so many of their ideas a success story. You may have heard of the Borscht Film Festival or the LegalArt Residency. And every self-respecting South Florida culture vulture has heard of the 13-hour cultural all-nighter, Sleepless Night Miami Beach. They're all unprecedented ideas that the Knight Arts Challenge brought to fruition. And that only scratches the surface.

So we rang up Tatiana Hernandez, arts associate at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Good news: she divulged a few insider tips for potential applicants. You're welcome.

Cultist: How has the challenge helped transform South Florida through the arts?
Tatiana Hernandez: Well, the Knight Foundation in 2008 approved this initiative -- a $40 million initiative to transform South Florida through the arts. They did this at a time when other foundations and cultural shares departments were cutting their art budget, and so at time, Knight said "no, we're going to make a commitment, we're going to double down." What it did is, it liberated the art community in South Florida to be innovative, to think in a new direction. It wasn't where many other organizations might have been desperately looking for funds to keep their doors open. At Knight we encourage people to be creative, be innovative. This is what is going to drive our community into the future. So I think that to see that in the last five years, there's been a serious change artistically and in the art community overall. We think about ourselves differently.

How exactly are the winners going to be selected?
We have a panel process. We invite art experts from the community to sit in the panel. We do read every single application that comes in. It's really exciting to see two thousand ideas from the community. In our first round we look through all the ideas and select the finalists. From those finalists, we then invite them to submit a proposal and we choose our winners from there.

How many applicants do you get every year?
It varies every year, but on average we've had anywhere between 1,200 and about 1,500 applications. We had 2,000 last year in Philadelphia, which was our biggest group of applications. But in Miami it ranges between about 1,000 and 1,500. Every year, people have gotten smarter about their entries as they see the projects that have been funded in the past and think about what they can do that fits the organization's mission of engaging communities through the arts.

What specifically do you hope this year's participants will bring to the table?
Personally, I'd love to see ideas that really break the mold. We always want to get new and innovative ideas. I think it's important for our artists and our art institutions to think beyond their walls and beyond what they've done in the past.

How do applicants find funds to match the Knight Foundation grant?
It's important that people understand that they don't need to match first to apply. We worry about the matching once someone has been selected as a winner. It is a dollar-for-dollar cash match. We have had people do fundraisers. People have sold items. People think of really creative kick-starters that have been very successful for some of our grantees. It depends, but it's not something that we want anyone to worry about until they need to worry about it.

What advice do you have for applicants looking to stand out this year?
The best way to have an edge is to have a good idea. The next best thing to do is to think about your idea and convey that idea in an innovative way that grabs people's attention. I always suggest that people think through a project title that's not only descriptive but also catchy. As we're reading through a thousand of these, it helps a lot when there's just three words that we can think and say "oh, yea, that's that project." It's really all about being concise, clear, and exciting.

What else would you like everyone that's considering to participate to know?
This project is open to everybody and it's important that we hear from everybody.

Think you have what it takes? Apply online at knightarts.org before March 19.

--Vanessa Martin

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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1035 N. Miami Ave., Miami, FL

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