When the economic crisis hit, Mario Ernesto Sanchez, actor and producing artistic director of Teatro Avante, thought his career in the arts was over.
Sanchez had applied to various grants to support his theater, but all his efforts had been rejected.
But everything changed the moment that his 150-word proposal was chosen by the Knight Arts Challenge and helped fund the expansion of the annual International Hispanic Theatre Festival.
“It was not just the funding,” said Sanchez, who has received funding for two separate projects. “It was the hope that the challenge gave us- that things would improve and get better.”
The Knight Arts Challenge has been in South Florida for the past five years and is a community-wide contest funding project open to anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, age or immigration status.
“The world of philanthropy can be intimidating and difficult to get access to,” said Tatiana Hernandez, arts associate for the Knight Arts Challenge. “But what’s really special is that with the challenge, people have an opportunity to have access to a fund.”
The challenge requires participants to submit a 150-word written idea based in the arts that will benefit South Florida. These ideas are read by a panel that chooses about 30 to 50 winners who receive an average funding of $50,000 to $75,000 to bring the idea to life.
Recently, the Knight Arts Challenge is allowing applications to be submitted in Spanish and in Haitian Kreyol.
“I hate the fact that some people are afraid to apply,” said Sanchez. “Some may feel discriminated, they don’t think the program is good enough, but this is for everyone, every race, every minority.”
The program is expanding and looking for representation of the cultural diversity found in South Florida, constantly in search for the most innovative ideas in every community.
Cecilia Gutierrez-Abety, a recent winner, is currently developing her idea to turn Liberty City into an artistic town, where local artists are highlighted and displayed.
“I love the concept. It can be anyone, just a really good idea that you feel compelled to write about,” said Gutierrez-Abety. “They don’t care who it is it’s, this is the only thing where it doesn’t matter who submitted it, they just want an idea.”
The Knight Arts Challenge directors and previous winners have gone out to the community for round table discussions this week. In these discussions the most common question is what the foundation is specifically looking for.
“It’s what you want to do, we’re looking for the best ideas,” said Hernandez. “We realized that we don’t know it all, we don’t have all of the answers. We just want to be inclusive and engage the community.”
7 p.m. Feb. 20: Cannonball, Downtown Miami, 1035 N. Miami Ave., Suite 200
7 p.m., Feb. 21: South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211 St.
Click here for the website.