The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Aug 16, 2013

Arts Challenge gives 'reggae ambassador' a bigger stage

Posted by elizabeth.miller

Above: Willie Stewart directs children from the Lauderdale Lakes Education Complex and Musicians of the Heart band. Photo courtesy of Dave Muir of DAVIDiPhoto.  Knight Foundation recently released a report, “Why Contests Improve Philanthropy,” about managing open contests. Below, Steven S. Klotz, executive director of the Embrace Music Foundation, writes about the impact a 2010 Knights Arts Challenge prize of $25,000 to “Reggae Ambassador” Willie Stewart had on the development of the organization. Embrace received a $50,000 grant from Knight in 2012.

At Embrace Music Foundation, we show kids new ways to appreciate music, and let them learn how the arts can change their lives. While we look ahead to our next series and presentation in October, we haven’t forgotten how we arrived at this moment.

The Knight Arts Challenge, an open contest, is a big part of that.

“We were coming off our first ‘Rhythms of Africa’ at Miramar ArtsPark in 2009,” said Willie Stewart, Embrace’s chairman and musical director. “The presentation was a spectacular success—people were buzzing for months—but all we had was the program and a hatful of dreams. We didn’t even have our nonprofit corporation, let alone a 501(c)(3).

“But here’s the Knight Foundation uniquely challenging every artist and agency in South Florida to step up and pitch their ideas,” he said. “And they make it very easy for everybody, not just the big arts organizations and professional grant writers.”

Willie said winning the first challenge led to the creation of the non-profit Embrace Music Foundation, invigorated supporters, encouraged new people to become involved and opened the door to new sources of funding. It seemed like everyone had heard of the Knight Arts Challenge, he said, and becoming a grantee conferred instant street cred.

The program places musical instruments in children’s hands from Day One, and the kids’ life-changing experience starts there. From that moment, they become a focused team with goals they can grasp.

“Our work is a journey,” Willie said. “‘Rhythms of Africa’ continues the movement of our ancestors and the culture they carried in their hearts and souls from the Old World to New.  But learning itself is a journey as well.  So when we teach our kids to play this music and appreciate its role in the African Diaspora and their own lives, we guide their growth, directing them so their own journeys are rewarding, and their destinations worthy.”

There are additional journeys ahead.  Next up: Broward’s HANDY program begins a series of “Rhythms of Africa workshops at the end of August, culminating in a performance with international musicians at Broward College’s Bailey Hall on Oct. 27.  The new series will incorporate two additional teaching artists—Lu Welters of Jubilee Dance Theatre and Mootchie Alcin of Chie Moo Arts—to integrate dance and drama with educational and performance components of the program.

“This continues our journey, too,” Willie said. “We begin with the beat—the pulse, if you will, the foundation of music and life itself—and we move outward from there to reach more people, touch more lives. On the way we recruit others to help carry the message about transforming lives through music and the arts. We travel; we grow. Everyone’s welcome!”

Steven S. Klotz, executive director, Embrace Music Foundation Related articles: “How the News Challenge changed the way we work on journalism and media innovation”; Report: “Why Contests Improve Philanthropy”; Podcast: “How philanthropic contests can spur innovation

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