ARTSY: Knight Arts Challenge Winner’s Circle

BY BRANDON LAFVING The Knight Arts Challenge 2012 winners were announced last night at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Awards were announced to the pleasant tune of $2.76 million, slated for reinvigorating Philadelphia’s vibrant cultural life.Everyone was there but you: the Mayor, Chief Cultural Officer, a host of other VIPs. They wore rakish suits, sleek cocktail dresses. I wore khakis and a brown sweater with elbow patches. I don’t think they would have let me in without the elbow patches. The look and feel of the ceremony may have shouted generic city publicity nonsense, but the façade – fortunately laden with tasty sliders and tangy scallops – belied the democratic initiative behind it all.

Suffice it to say that the Knight Foundation has simplified the grant application process. Anybody with an idea and a computer can enter by writing a short paragraph that outlines his/her general concept and how the city would benefit. After tasting the quality of the meat, I must admit experiencing some skepticism regarding the de facto rules. Sure, the set up was simplified, and the red tape was supposedly cut, but what about the execution? I wanted to know how many awards were given to smaller organizations, the ones that no one knew about beforehand.

The results provided some reason for optimism. One relatively new organization, The Hacktory (founded in 2007), received $40,000 to teach artists how to use technology in their work. An even more recent dance/theater troupe, Swim Pony, was meted out $50,000 to present contemporary plays in nontraditional spaces. They’ve only been around since 2009.There were plenty of more experienced, entrenched organizations there, too, which is allowed. University City District received $120,000 for The Porch – a legitimately awesome project to revitalize 30th Street Station with daily public arts programming.Other recipient projects followed the laws of attraction, literally. The Kimmel Center was given help to thankfully and finally attract younger audiences with new, innovative programming.

Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation was dished $350,000 for some late-night happenings that will cater to the same crowd.I left with a full belly but not fully slaked. I came looking for corruption and dirty politicking, and I found a generative, creative, and authentic, albeit formal, event that will undoubtedly help support artists and organizations that make Philadelphia a unique, cool town. Rainbows and unicorns don’t make good journalism, but there you have it.

PHOTO: The Bearded Ladies Cabaret Revolution’s “No Regrets: A Piaf Affair.” Courtesy of plate3photography

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