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The Mighty Erica Hawthorne
A Minnesota native, singer and spoken word artist Erica Hawthorne moved to Philly for its art scene. Earlier this year, Hawthorne won a Knight Arts Challenge grant for her project, Small But Mighty, which positions itself as a source of microgrant source for local up-and-coming artists in need of project funding.
The Knight Arts Challenge is now entering its third year of awarding Philadelphia artists funding for the best proposals. Program Director Donna Frisby-Greenwood explains that the Knight Challenge is ultimately about promoting informed and engaged communities. Frisby-Greenwood says that their program seeks to fund “things that haven’t been tried before in Philadelphia, and that make art accessible” for the public, an agenda well aligned with a city hailed nationally for its public art leadership.
To that end, Fisby-Greenwood explains, “Erica’s idea is innovative and supports local artists.” She continues, “they know her because she’s a fellow artist, and she can capture folks who are intimidated by a Knight Foundation Challenge. [Erica's project offers] the last piece of money to complete a project or take a production to scale.
Erica Hawthorne explains Small But Mighty in her own words.
two.one.five magazine: Tell me a little bit about your Small But Mighty project.
Erica Hawthorne: It’s a microgrant program that gives microgrants between $200 and $1000 to independent artists! I won the Knight Arts Challenge to get this thing started, with Knight Foundation, and the primary focus right now is really being able to support independent artists. Many artists are $200 or $1000 away from really giving a boost to their creative career, and what I’ve noticed is that there are independent artists that could do great things if they just had that little bit of boost. I mean it’s nothing big, like, “if I just had $10,000 I could change the world!,” but I think because of the creative scene here in Philadelphia, there’s an immense amount of talent, being able to support that and continue to make sure that that cycle it thriving, so people don’t feel like they’re impeded from doing those projects that puts more art into the community, at the same time those independent artists feel like they have resources to continue to do their work.
two.one.five: You say that you meet a lot of artists who could launch an art career with a couple hundred bucks – I don’t personally know many artists who’d need that little money! Where do you find the artists and what do they do with the microgrant that you’re giving them?
EH: Well, think about it this way – first of all, I moved to Philadelphia in love with the art scene here. And I feel like Philadelphia has a really rich scene of independent artists making it. The Jill Scotts, the Roots – they all started small! So if you had asked them when they were starting small what they would have used $200 for, maybe they would’ve used it for band rehearsal, maybe they would’ve used it for gas money to travel. I know artists right now whose livelihood is based on being able to have internet access, so having a laptop that allows them to do their creative work. Better still – a painter, a visual artist, they want to be in an exhibit, but to get their stuff matted and framed, there’s a cost associated with that. So, I know tons of artists where $200-$1000 makes all the difference, so they’re continuing to give back and put into their careers. This is a bigger conversation about resources. The money is great, but also connecting them to those things that help them continue to build their careers.
two.one.five: so you’re in a sense taking money from the Knight Foundation and redistributing grant funding essentially to smaller artists in smaller amounts. You have to be accountable to the Knight Foundation. Do the artists to whom you’re granting money have to be accountable to you somehow?
EH: Yeah, we’re still working out what the application process is going to be. We don’t want it to be so labor intensive that it makes it challenging. We’re getting interested in working with artists at the points of their career where this would make a difference. We wanted to be accessible to them to apply. But yes, we still want them to have a formal application process, be able to express what they would use the funds for, how that would help expand their art, and how they would take that art and put it back into the community. So the initial thoughts are making sure that they’re able to talk about that, and explain that.
two.one.five: And do they have to update you with progress reports?
EH: I personally want to make sure that when folks win a grant from Small But Mighty, that they really do feel like they’re a small-but-mighty artist! Yes, we want progress reports. We want to be able to promote the artists that win these grants, and highlight, and even before we begin the grant process – which is not until Spring 2013 – we want to be reporting what’s happening with independent artists within the community as well.
two.one.five: The Knight Foundation asks you as a stipulation to match the funding that you receive from them. Is that a pain point for you?
EH: It’s intimidating! But we have a great advisory team. People are really excited, and the campaign launch is in two weeks, and so I think people will see that their small funds can make a big difference for this. So, we’re actually going to be promoting it in a way where people feel like it’s accessible. What we want the community to think about – I think typically people stereotype artists like, you know, “Give me this handout,” or, you know, [as though] they’re struggling or starving artists, which I’m completely against. What I see are thriving artists, based on what they bring back to our community – they’re teaching artists, they give us great events – and they don’t have to come from these really big organizations to do it! They’re doing it individually. They’re making it up, and they’re doing it within their communities. And I think that’s worth, you know, if you got five bucks between your coffees for making sure you’re supporting something that’s gonna continue to support artists. And, I mentioned before, part is this is fiscal support, but another thing is connecting artists to resources, and connecting them to things that help them professionally develop to continue. So it’s really about creating this cycle where people see Philadelphia as this place you come to thrive and you can do your art and it’s accessible. I feel like Small But Mighty is a small part of the bigger creative economy and community here.
two.one.five: Will you be reaching out to smaller donors to match, or will you be reaching out to organizations?
EH: I will be reaching out to small and mighty people! [laughs] So, all of the above. But I want to make it accessible for people. Crowd-sourcing had become a very common way to raise funds. So we are going to be partnered with Generosity, which is a local fundraising operation, and then maybe we’ll do Indiegogo. We want people to see that their small amounts make a big difference, but there’s also this need to really match these funds. My goal is to match these funds so we can get this program going and make it sustainable. We’re looking at models to make this stalwart, and stay here in Philadelphia.
two.one.five: Like your project is making grant applications accessible to artists, the Knight Foundation also strives to do that. How did you first find out about it?
EH: Yes, I found out about the Knight Arts Challenge, I had friends who had actually won, a good friend that won for Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, Greg Corbin. They were like 150 words! And, I’ve been in Philadelphia for nine years, and if anybody knew me in that time, they knew what my soapbox speech was about independent artists and accessibility. I used to live in Minneapolis in a very cohesive community. So when I found out about the grant, people said I should apply, they had heard my soapbox speeches about artists that need support. But it just seemed almost too simple. Like, “are they really gonna give me money to give money? Like, really? I don’t know..” So honestly I hesitated. But then I submitted my idea. I went to a really great Knight Foundation workshop that got me very excited. Knight Foundation is really good at pulling people together and getting them thinking of how they can have an impact. So I left that experience and decided to apply. So I applied, I made it as a finalist (so then I freaked out again)! But the words and the application came really easy, because I had been talking about this for a very long time – I’ve been an independent artist, spoken word, theater, singing – and knew firsthand the challenges of managing a band, and traveling and trying to work on my album. So, when you go back and ask again, who needs $200-$1000? $1000 would’ve paid for some serious copies of the CD. And then, you know, what an artist can do with that to turn it into livelihood for themselves! So, this is something I’m actually passionate about. I feel that it has potential to grow, and I’m really excited that Knight saw that in this project.
two.one.five: Do you have people in mind already who are applying or who you’re considering for giving grants to?
EH: No, but I know people are excited about it! I personally won’t be doing the voting, I really wanna be able to be the advocate. So I have a great advisory team, we’ll probably be getting people voting and looking at the applications for the artists. I know there are a lot of artists that are excited, a lot of my colleagues, a lot of people who have joined the email list, who are following us on Twitter and talking about this. So I know there’s the excitement, I just want to make sure we do the due diligence of raising the matching funds and making this program sustainable.
two.one.five: This is fantastic. Anything else you wanna say about the project? Applications, or give us a website?
EH: Yes! The website is www.smallbutmightyarts.org. You can follow us on Twitter @SBMArtsGrant, or SmallButMighty on Facebook!
I think what is exciting about this project, and the last thing I will say, is I’m excited about anything that allows individuals to know that they have a direct impact on something in real time, and this is one of those things. I’m really excited because I think this is part of the puzzle that is an already existing, strong creative culture in Philadelphia. It’s a really exciting time to be here as an artist! And I’m really really big on it because when I first moved here, I remember people told me, you know, “have fun, and you’re gonna do great, and that’s wonderful, but if you really wanna ‘make it,’ you’re gonna have to go to Atlanta, or LA, or New York…” and I took that personally! I mean, not just because I had moved my whole life to Philadelphia [laughs] (and I was not moving again!), but I moved here because of the talent here! I mean, I thought I was gonna be singing backup for people. I have a real passion for singing – not just performing arts, but visual arts, and the ways in which people are redefining the arts being supported here in the city. So, I’m very hopeful that Small But Mighty can be a part of it!
The deadline for applying for this year’s round of Knight Arts awards is tonight, October 15th, at midnight! Read another profile of a Knight Arts Challenge winner, Catzie Vilayponh!