The Knight Foundation on Monday night announced the final 43 winners of its three-year, $9 million Knight Arts Challenge, a round of grants seeking answers from the city's arts community to a simple, straightforward question: What's your best idea?
For theater artist Lee Ann Etzold, 37, recipient of $25,000, the announcement means "it's time for me to make some phone calls and let people know I'm still here."
The Knight Arts Challenge website lays out only three rules: "The idea is about arts, the project takes place in or benefits the local community, you find other funding to match the Knight Foundation grant." In other words, Etzold, one of the few individuals to receive funding, must raise $25,000 on her own in order to receive the grant.
She's confident. Her idea - a plan to bring together two somewhat wary South Philadelphia neighborhoods to present a theater piece drawn from daily encounters - is just the kind of project that attracts Knight.
"Lee's project to me could be one of the most interesting projects, and maybe one of the riskiest," said Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation vice president for arts. "She's going to try to see if she can, through theater, break some barriers that exist out there. That's a risk. She's has the chops to do it. And that's a risk we're willing to take."
Other grants will fund Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra's plan to give amateur musicians the opportunity to play with the orchestra's professionals; a plan to bring 20 artist collectives together for a collaborative, month-long exhibition; and opportunities for audiences to participate in classes and performances with Kùlú Mèlé African Dance & Drum Ensemble.
A full list of awards can be found at the Knight Arts Challenge website: http://www.knightarts.org.
Etzold is a founding company member of the experimental New Paradise Laboritories and former co-artistic director of Brat Productions.
Her idea had its origins almost three years ago, when she and her husband purchased a house in what had been the eastern portion of weary, working-class Point Breeze. In the past decade, however, their steadily gentrifying immediate neighborhood had been re-named Newbold.
Local community and zoning meetings were sometimes volatile in those years, and when Etzold attended she was struck by local residents talking about things that once were there - the neighbor who was gone, the business that had closed, the house that had disappeared in the wink of a developer's eye.
There was the story about the local school production of The Wiz; one man waxed rhapsodic about it - but that was years ago. There was the story of the family of drummers. The story of the love garden. The story of tensions between old and new, black and white, poor and not so poor.
"I loved those stories so much," she said. And an idea began to take shape: What if residents old and new could be brought together to share stories, to share their artistic skills as writers and singers and performers, and focus them on telling the story of how neighborhoods change and jostle?
"There are racial issues," she said. "There are always racial issues. It's the U.S. I'm not ignoring them. But it's not my intention to make a piece about gentrification. It's my intention to make a piece about the neighbors and what they want and what they want it to be."
"I'm calling the project," she said after a pause, "Point Bold."