Meet Some of the Winners of Knight Foundation's St. Paul Art Challenge

We're not in the business of doling out explicit advice to foundations. But here's a suggestion anyway. Want to make it easier for organizations to apply for grants or simply express an idea that will help their community? Make the process easy.

Not "three-page-application-form" easy, but "150-words-or-less" easy.

That's the beauty behind the Knight Foundation's Art Challenge and why so many organizations submitted their ideas across its recent campaign in St. Paul, Minnesota. Knight just announced the winners, but before we take a closer look at them, let's first reiterate why their simple approach resonates so effectively.

As we recently noted, Knight announced that over $1 million was up for grabs for St. Paul-area nonprofits. All they had to do was pitch their ideas in 150 words or less, explaining how the ideas would help the city. It's the same logic behind the classic "elevator pitch." If you can't effectively describe your idea in the duration of an elevator ride, it's probably not a good idea.

Furthermore, while it's not as brief as Twitter's 140-character count, Knight's guidelines speak to our collective new-found love of brevity. As the previously cited article notes, this simplicity "appealed to such small organizations as Mizna, a 15-year-old Arab-American nonprofit that plans to use its $40,000 grant to do more events, including film screenings in parks, readings, workshops and perhaps literary picnics." 

Less is more. No grant writers required.

Better yet, Knight's guidelines also boost the level of applicant diversity. Applicants and winners were "Latina, Hmong, Brazilians, and Somali,” just to name a few, according to Dennis Scholl, Vice President for Arts at Knight. 

Not suprisingly, 868 St. Paul organizations and artists submitted their ideas. Of those, 69 were invited to submit more detailed proposals. Here are a few of the winners:  

  • The largest grant ($125,000) will help the Twin Cities Jazz Festival expand its outdoor stages for the free summertime event in St. Paul’s Lowertown.
  • The second-biggest grant ($70,000) went to the Asian-American theater troupe Mu Performing Arts, to create an original play about the 21st-century immigrant experience.
  • Teatro del Pueblo, a St. Paul theater company, will use a $50,000 grant to develop 20 episodes of a radio novella modeled on the popular Latin American soap operas known as telenovelas.

As you may recall, last time we last checked in with Dennis Scholl, he said he saw a "real sense of collaboration" in St. Paul that he didn't see elsewhere. Click here to find out why Knight is so bullish on the city.

And for nonprofits out there, we have some good news. Knight is active in 26 communities. Just try and keep it brief, ok?