Thumbs up: How to make it past the first round of the South Florida Knight Arts Challenge

arts / Article

Tatiana Hernandez provides tips to applying to the Knight Arts Challenge in this 2014 video.

The “like button” on Facebook is society’s new approval rating. And, as Arts Program Officer Tatiana Hernandez said Wednesday night at Downtown Miami’s Cannonball headquarters, a thumbs-up rating also will likely get you past the first round of the 2015 Knight Arts Challenge South Florida.

From the beanie’d to the yarmulke’d, from the dreadlocked to the white-haired, a diverse group packed Cannonball’s loft-like lobby to listen to Hernandez and learn about the process. (Cannonball is a multiple Knight Arts Challenge winner.) The local arts nonprofit hosted one of five community Q&A sessions designed to help South Floridians craft their most convincing applications for this year’s challenge, which is open through Feb. 23.

For those who become finalists the proposal period begins in May and Knight Foundation will announce winners next winter.

In this first round of applications, though, interested individuals just have to submit a project title and a 150-word description of their plans. Hernandez explained that the best applications follow three C’s: They are clear, concise and compelling.

“It’s an ideas contest,” she repeated, reminding audiences to focus on the artistic value of their projects in the simplest language possible.

Another important message she offered was to emphasize the art in those brief 150 words.

Jono De Leon, a local teacher and director of education with Guitars Over Guns, especially appreciated this tip. De Leon has applied multiple times, personally and through Guitars Over Guns. “From experience,” he said, “given our social impact, Tatiana’s focus on framing the art component” helped him contextualize his organization’s application this year.

While projecting two bold thumb icons on Cannonball’s white wall, Hernandez explained that the panel of judges will either give these initial applications a thumbs up or thumbs down. Most that earn thumbs up get to the proposal round in the spring. Last year, 75 finalists made it to this stage.

As attendees worked their way out of the session, a few individuals sidled up to Hernandez with additional inquiries. Naomi L. Ross, a student earning her master’s degree in community and social change at the University of Miami described the two projects she had in mind, speaking quickly, quietly, and passionately. Just as Ross finished her question about whether expanding the existing League of Creative Interventionists to a local chapter would be an eligible application, Hernandez accidentally took a swig from her water bottle. All she had to do to respond affirmatively to Ross, however, was flash a thumbs up.

Applications are being accepted online at

For updates, follow #knightarts and @knightfdn on Twitter, @knightfdn on Instagram and Knight Foundation on Facebook.

Hilary Saunders is a freelance writer in Miami.

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