There's a reason the cliché of the starving artist has stood the test of time: Getting by as a working creative is hard — really hard. Studio spaces cost money. Paints, brushes, and canvas cost money. Clay and steel and camera gear, they all cost money too. And in a city as expensive as Miami, money isn't the easiest thing to come by for artists on the rise. Fortunately, ArtCenter/South Florida just made their lives a little easier.
The Ellies, a program launched today by ArtCenter, will award more than two dozen grants to local visual artists in Miami-Dade ranging from $2,500 to $25,000. The Ellies, which will give up to $500,000 total, is the brainchild of ArtCenter's new president and CEO, Dennis Scholl, former vice president of the arts program at the Knight Foundation.
"The ArtCenter has played a significant role in the celebration and elevation of the careers of Miami artists for 34 years," Scholl explains. "Of course I’m new here — I only got here a number of months ago — but given the opportunity that we received when we sold one of our buildings on Lincoln Road, I knew right away when I was given the opportunity to come to the ArtCenter that I wanted to put that resource to work for our community’s artists."
When ArtCenter/South Florida opened on Lincoln Road in 1984, the pedestrian mall was practically a no-man's land. Ellie Schneiderman, ArtCenter's founder, decided to purchase some of the boarded-up storefronts along Lincoln and put them to use to serve South Florida's arts scene.
Three decades later, that real estate has provided the means for a new chapter in Schneiderman's legacy. The $88 million sale of one of the buildings purchased years ago for a fraction of the price gave ArtCenter the resources to fund the awards that are named in honor of Schneiderman.
"Ellie Schneiderman, who... has put us in this position by her astute acquisition of these buildings 34 years ago, often said that the ArtCenter is here to help artists help themselves," Scholl says. "We so respect that remark and so believe in it, so the Ellies are a way of acknowledging the incredible quality we have in our arts community here."
The Ellies will comprise three grants: the Michael Richards Award, a single $75,000 grant in the form of a two-year stipend that will go to an established Miami artist; the Creator Awards, which will range from $2,500 to $25,000 and are open to any visual artists in Miami-Dade County; and Teacher Travel Grants, awarding three art teachers $5,000 to travel to a destination of their choice and explore the arts from a new point of view.
"There’s a lot of philanthropic funding for arts organizations and for arts 501(c)(3)s," Scholl explains, "but on an individual-artist basis, there aren’t that many opportunities, so we felt that was a part of the arts ecosystem in Miami that we could really help with."
The Michael Richards Award stands to acknowledge the often overlooked artistic giants Miami has produced over the years, and the Teacher Travel Grants will finally reward the unsung heroes of Miami's arts ecosystem. But the Creator Awards will likely draw the most attention from the local creative community. With $75,000 pledged to the Michael Richards Award winner and $15,000 designated for teachers bound for far-away lands, the Ellies will have more than $400,000 to pledge to all sorts of visual artists from around Miami, no strings attached. Scholl expects anywhere from at least 20 to 35 recipients of the Creator Grants. All that's required is an application and an idea.
"What we want from artists is ideas that inspire us," he says, "that inspire the community, inspire the creative fuel that is in this town that is running so hard right now."
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Applications for the Creator Awards and the Teacher Travel Grants will be available online and accepted April 18 through May 24 at theellies.org. The winners will be announced October 24 at a celebration at the Bass.
For Scholl, the Ellies represent more than a way of appreciating local talent. In his eyes, the awards have the potential to elevate the entire area's cultural landscape to new heights.
"This is a moment in Miami’s cultural history where we have emerged as a community in so many ways," he says. "We have probably the best art museum that’s been built in the last 20 years. We have the best young talent-scouting organization in the country with YoungArts. We have the best teaching symphony in the country at New World Symphony... So we think that putting these dollars out to our individual visual artists in our community can be a real tipping point."