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A Few Modest Proposals for the Knight Arts Challenge: Philadelphia

30 Oct 2010
by Alex Hillman

Earlier in September, the Knight Foundation announced a program to bring $9 million to Philadelphia to fund projects and ideas that fueled the arts in Philadelphia over the next 3 years. After successfully executing a similar challenge in Miami 2 years ago, Philadelphia became the second city that Knight brought this opportunity to.

I don’t think I need to say how proud I am that the city I love and live in was selected for this opportunity, and I think that it’s a fantastic illustration of the sort of culture that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with over the last few years while working on Indy Hall.

Geoff’s contributions to Indy Hall come in many forms, but one of the more valuable and lesser known ones are his background in the arts. There are immense degrees of inspiration and lessons learned from his years in the arts that have shaped Indy Hall and it’s related communities and projects. No extra work has gone into figuring out how Indy Hall fits with the arts movement and culture in Philadelphia because, quite fundamentally, they are one and the same.

Because of this, we’ve been urged strongly to participate in the Knight Arts Challenge and submit a few ideas. Since my schedule has only started to return to “normal” recently, today I decided to put some time into crystallizing some of my ideas into the ~150 word “essays” requested in the Knight application. Geoff and I have spoken about some but not all of these, and they were written by me in my words.

There’s one important aspect to these applications that I want to note, as a reminder for myself, and as a point of context for anyone else reading this (at Knight or otherwise): these are all things that I (and we) intend on doing anyway.

Having Knight resources doesn’t mean that there is a green light that we don’t already have, because we don’t wait for permission. Having Knight resources doesn’t provide the validation that these ideas are valuable, because I’m confident that they are each an evolution of already-in-progress movements.

Knight resources are an opportunity to grow these movements and initiatives faster, and more strategically, allowing us to involve partners and specialists for the tactical implementations and letting Geoff, myself, and some other key leaders we’re excited about the potential to work with focus on guiding the projects and the necessary relationships.

And without further adieu, 3 modest proposals I’ve submitted prior to to the November 1 deadline.

1. Creative Cultural Event Volunteer Umbrellacorp

Philadelphia has had an explosion of events emerge over the last 4 years, and the richest and most influential ones rely on two scarce resources: volunteer time and sponsor donations.

These events span the space of arts, technology, creativity, education, business, science, and more. The best events allow for cross pollination between these spaces. With Knight funding, we could begin combining resources and making it easier for volunteers to provide their time knowing that infrastructure and support existed. In addition, the creation of a non-profit “for us by us” that makes it easier to approach local businesses for tax-deductible donations without needing to form dozens of tiny, one-off non-profits.

This initiative would improve the quantity, quality, and visibility of existing arts and cultural evens as well as enrich them by cross pollinating them with other neighboring industries.

2. Workplace Murals Partnership

Inspired by the Mural Arts program and its success in converting eyesore public surfaces in Philadelphia, I propose a program that takes Philadelphia’s arts community and partners them with another initiative, one to improve our workplaces.

We spend more time in our offices than in any other single place besides our homes, and there are measurable effects of making even the smallest improvements to create an interesting, welcoming, and inspiring workplace that workers are happy and excited to be in.

By partnering artists with businesses to help create murals that are relevant to the business, it’s activities and ideals, and install them in the workplaces. This not only provides an opportunity to get artists’ work into the public eye in a new and interesting way, but it creates a new setting where art can be enjoyed, and to universally positive end: art is more broadly appreciated, workers are inspired in their workplace, and companies invite their clients to their offices to show off the artwork.

3. Indy Hall & Partners to Develop Next Generation Piazza

Over the last 4 years, Indy Hall – a creative coworking community center in Old City Philadelphia – has proven itself with an extraordinary track record for creating a collaborative clubhouse catering to creatives across dozens of industries, including but not limited to designers, developers, writers, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, educators, small business owners, telecommuters, marketers, videographers, game developers, and more.

We’ve shown growth over 3 years of operating shared space, from ~20 members of an 1800 square foot space to over 100 members sharing nearly 5000 square feet.

We believe that our next opportunity for growth is larger than a single space, but instead, to re-invent an entire city block in Philadelphia as a “Piazza” designed for independently minded creatives.

We will take our experience, and our community partners, and use it to seed the creation of a new location that mixes not only industries, but the entire strata of a creative lifestyle: live, work, and play.

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.