Artists duel for Knight grants

The Art Sanctuary and the Clay Studio are two finalists in the Knight Arts challenge. What do operas adapting hip-hop and guerilla-mug exchanges have in common with one another? They are both ideas that have

CHRIS MONTGOMERY TTN Tyler School of Art graduate Adam Ledford instructs students in the Clay Studio on how to use a pottery wheel. The Clay Studio is one of 55 finalists in the 2012 Knight Arts Challenge.

The Art Sanctuary and the Clay Studio are two finalists in the Knight Arts challenge.

What do operas adapting hip-hop and guerilla-mug exchanges have in common with one another? They are both ideas that have been granted finalist positions in this year’s Knight Arts Challenge of Philadelphia.

The 2012 competition released the ideas of the 55 finalists earlier this month, and included on the roster were projects from the Art Sanctuary of South Philadelphia and the Clay Studio from Old City. Both organizations place a great emphasis on education and community outreach through the arts, reflected within each of their project proposals.

The Art Sanctuary, founded in North Philadelphia, works from their mission statement in using “black art to transform individuals, unite groups of people and enrich and draw inspiration from the inner city.”

Projects from the Sanctuary have included “Can You Hear God Crying?” a music outreach project that targets incarcerated individuals in the Philadelphia prison system. The organization also partners with Temple in the Celebration of Black Writing conference, an event that has been celebrated each year since 1984.

In 2007, the Art Sanctuary began to work in tandem with the Philadelphia Opera Company to introduce youth of the city to crossing the genres of hip-hop and opera. Students would initially write poetry that would then be set to operatic music. By 2009, the groups were creating curriculums for partner schools to teach students the art of storytelling through both music genres. It was from this pilot that the idea for the Knight Arts grant formed.

“We want to expand upon this concept of ‘Hip H’Opera,’” said Tarana Burke, the managing director of Art Sanctuary. “The finished product will be a full production in the Opera Company’s 2014 line up.”

With the grant, the Art Sanctuary with the Philadelphia Opera Company plan to organize an artistic team to write a full opera using the informing themes and ideas from students between six different schools in Philadelphia. The project allows for these students to voice their experiences for a larger production, educating them about artistic outlets while in turn educating the general public about life as an urban youth.

The students involved in helping inspire the opera would be given the chance to explore other opportunities within theater careers, including costume design, set design, backstage work and directing.

“With this opportunity, we also want to provide tangible ideas to the students about different kinds of work in the arts,” said Danielle Ayers, the director of development and finance for the organization.

While “Hip H’Opera” targets a young population with education and the opportunity to be part of the creation of an opera production, the Clay Studio’s “Guerilla Mug Assault” hopes to use a Knight Arts grant toward research.

Jeff Guido, the artistic director of the studio, hopes to use his project to explore the question, “what is the relevance of handmade objects in the 21st century?”

The “Guerilla Mug Assault” is proposed to be a timed event involving 10 coffee shops around the city. During the event, random people from the general public would be encouraged to trade in the use of a disposable paper cup from their coffee spot for a handmade mug. Participants would then be asked to blog about their experiences in using the handmade object.

“There is a significant role objects play in people’s everyday lives. Objects can be charged with a spirit and meaning for people,” Guido said. “I want to explore these experiences.”

Anyone from the general public can be involved with “Guerilla Mug Assault.” Guido decided not to disclose when or where these “paper cup for mug” pop-ups would happen, to encourage this idea that anyone and everyone could become involved with the project.

The Clay Studio continues to be involved in outreach programs like the Art Sanctuary, but with an emphasis on ceramic art.

The Claymobile, for example, provides a mobile ceramics studio for a diverse group of students and adults in the Philadelphia area – including deaf students, children in the juvenile justice system and the homeless.

Familiar organizations from the city also in the running for a grant include the Arden Theater in Old City, the Crane Arts Center of Northern Liberties and the University of the Arts. The Knight Arts Challenge will announce the grant winners from the finalist list this coming spring.

Nicole Welk can be reached at

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