When Brigid Baker heard that she was selected to compete for $20,000, she was excited and oddly shocked.
The seasoned dancer, choreographer and fierce community activist isn’t exactly fond of grants. Since the Little Havana 6th Street Dance Studio opened 10 years ago, she’s intentionally operated without grants or even business cards. She opted to sustain the studio on a barter system to develop artists without the constraint of outside funds or “funny money,” as she calls it. “Where I come from, no matter what, if you are good and it is needed you will do well,” she says.
But not even Baker could pass up the Knight Foundation’s current challenge.
She joins three other Miami-Dade finalists and another Palm Beach contender for the foundation’s first ever Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice Awards.
The foundation will bestow $20,000 in unrestricted funds to one of the five contenders, which in addition to Baker’s non-profit studio, includes FUNDarte, Urgent, Inc., LAB Miami and Arts Garage of Palm Beach. The twist to this contest is that the general public will decide the winner by texting in their group of choice. Voting ends Oct. 22.
“One of the pillars of our work is engaging the public,” says Matt Haggman, the foundation’s Miami Program Director. “We thought this would be a new, interesting and compelling way to engage the public.” The response, he says, has been great. “The number of texts we received was beyond our expectation.”
The groups up for the People’s Choice Award were plucked from the finalist pool of the Knight Foundation’s annual Challenge Grant, which traditionally matches funds for innovative art projects in Miami. Haggman says adding another dimension to the challenge grant further “helps rev up the creative juices in our city.” And that it did.
Two of the groups, Urgent, Inc. and LAB Miami are non-arts based, yet have devised art projects as a way to reach the people they serve. In their online profile videos for the People Choice Awards, LAB Miami states that it would use the funds to “bring together creative professionals and techies for a three-day art hackathon.” The plan is to develop apps and Websites that will enhance the “delivery of local art to users.” For Urgent, Inc, the money would help the Overtown community group paint a mural reflecting the Negro League’s legacy at Dorsey Park.
“Using the arts as a way to engage is certainly one way to be involved in the challenge,” says Haggman. In the five years since The Knight Foundation started the Challenge Grant, it has doled out approximately $17 million in grants.
Approximately 1,200 project proposals were submitted for the challenge grant, says Haggman. As part of the selection panel, he says the foundation looks for ideas that are “new and innovative and that we think will deliver a meaningful impact and is achievable.”
The three arts groups in the $20,000 competition, share goals of development and expansion.
“My goals are to secure funds to help local artists to develop and process [works] from scratch,” says Ever Chavez, founder and executive director of FUNDarte. Many local performance artists in the Latin genre don’t have the knowledge or “infrastructure” to fully develop performance pieces. Language barriers and lack of funds are often the problem, says Chavez, whose organization showcases performance art.
Most of FUNDarte’s projects reflect local Latin culture and issues, which Chavez says helps create intercultural understanding even among various Hispanic communities. Chavez, a long time theater producer in Cuba came to Miami in 2000 and started FUNDarte just two years later.
“I realized how hungry people were for another flavor of contemporary Latin performances,” he says. “We deserve more.” Chavez organizes four well-attended art programs each year: No Borders, Global Cuba Fest, Out in the Tropics and Miami on Stage.
The extra funds would allow him to give local artists one year to work on production and another year to present their performances. “I’m very happy, it is an awesome opportunity,” he says.
Arts Garage, based in downtown Delray Beach, is an arts hub seeking to expand in areas of music, film and visual art.
Baker, of 6th Street Dance Studio, also anticipates using the funds to expand existing dance programs and develop local artists — many of whom are the children who come to her studio each Friday evening to craft their break-dancing skills.
The cipher is nothing to take lightly, Baker smoothly explains. Break-dancing is one of the “healing protocols” for communities with little resources. The TruSchool project, housed at the dance studio, is based on the five elements of Hip Hop founded by the legendary DJ, Africa Bambaataa, and the Universal Zulu Nation.
While the Zulu Nation was formed on the streets of New York City, Baker says there happened to be a sizeable following in Miami, including TruSchool dance mentors. Kids come with their families each Friday night. “It’s creating an enormous bonding of family,” she says. Baker’s describes her dance studio as a holistic, open environment that fosters relationships and diversity.
If awarded the extra funds, Baker plans to implement other elements of hip hop, including popping and locking, graffiti art, emceeing and deejaying. The kids’ ballet program would receive a boost and Baker plans to introduce Lindy Hopping, which has a long tradition in Miami. “I think the kids would really love it,” she says.
Both Chavez and Baker have relied on social media, email and word of mouth to garner votes for the People’s Choice Award. Winners for the award and the challenge grant will be announced on Dec. 3, at the New World Center.
To vote in the People’s Choice Awards, send your texts to 305-767-3200. Text 1 for the 6th Street Dance Studio; text 2 for Arts Garage; text 3 for FUNDarte; text 4 for LAB Miami; and text 5 for Urgent, Inc.
Top Image: 6th Street Dance Studio “Wonderlawn”