What Makes Philadelphia Produce "Idea Viruses," According to the Knight Foundation?

Philadelphia is known for its history of innovation. The Declaration of Independence. Hall and Oates. The pork and provolone sandwich. And now you can add nonprofit arts organizations to the list.

The Knight Foundation is kicking off another Arts Challenge in the City of Brotherly Love this year, but with a twist. The $5 million program will roll out in 25 other cities and Knight expects Philly to lead the way. "Philadelphia seems very good at producing the idea virus that everyone wants to copy," Knight Foundation vice president Carol Coletta said. "And so we’re hoping to see a lot of those kinds of ideas."

First, one quick aside. Is it us, or is Knight really keen on playing cities against each other? Just a few months ago, Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts for the foundation, said, "The thing I see in St. Paul that I don't see as much in other communities is a real sense of collaboration." Maybe cities for Knight are like children. You love them all equally... but deep down you really love one the most.

Anyway, consciously or otherwise, Knight feels that Philly is an "idea virus" generator and that it would behoove other cities to see what they've been up to. And what other cities would those be?

Knight's grantmaking operations are in eight "resident" communities: Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Macon, Miami, San Jose/Silicon Valley, St. Paul, and Philadelphia. They support donor-advised programs in the remaining 18 communities, which include Biloxi, Mississippi; State College, Pennsylvania; and Wichita, Kansas.

So you're an arts nonprofit in Wichita and Knight tipped you off, more or less saying, "Want a piece of the Arts Challenge pie? Then emulate your virus-making brethren in Philadelphia." We here at IP conveniently took at look at the city's 19 winners from Knight's most recent award cycle and some themes emerged.

First, Knight likes grantseekers with proposals that celebrate their respective communities. Philadelphia's African-American Museum was given $50,000 to explore connections between African-American culture and the culinary arts for instance. Second, they like projects that push boundaries. For example, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret netted a $75,000 grant to develop and produce "Andy: A Popera," an interactive, pop-up opera inspired by the life and legacy of Andy Warhol.

And lastly, they reward organizations that collaborate in intriguing ways. Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture was awarded $10,000 for its efforts to bring together the city's Spanish and Arab-speaking communities by presenting an evening of poetry and music inspired by Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca.

So there you have it—25 other cities. Knight telegraphed what they were looking for. All roads lead to Philadelphia, so now get to work. And don't say we didn't warn you.

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