Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice: FAT Village Hopes to Bulk Up Broward's Art Scene

People's Choice Awards nominees are live. The community can vote now through November 17 via text message for one of six selected Knight Arts Challenge finalists to receive $20,000 to fund their projects. It's a text-to-vote campaign: Choose your favorite group and text its code to 22333. Of the 75 finalists, the six People's Choice nominees are small, emerging groups from different parts of South Florida, all working to make the region a better place to live.

Leah Brown and Peter Symmons are eight months pregnant. It's to be their first child, but not their first "baby."

"It's really exciting to be at the very beginning of something," Brown says. She and husband Symmons are the co-curators and art directors of the main exhibition warehouse in Fort Lauderdale's FAT Village Arts District. They've toiled the past four years to build a space where South Floridian and international artists can come together to create and exhibit monumental works on a grand scale.

It's never been easy, though it's always worth it, and it's time to take things to the next level. Without funds to manage daytime hours, the incredible works inside can only be seen during monthly art walks. A grant from the Knight Foundation would change everything, but they need community backing in the form of public voting now through Monday, November 17.

See also: Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice: HICCUP Hopes to Foster Hialeah's Art Scene

"To have that kind of backing and support and legitimacy would be really huge for this space," Brown says. "It is a tremendous amount of work that goes into these shows, and for the last four years, people have kind of looked at us like 'are you crazy? Why do you keep doing these?'"

Love always seems crazy from the outside, and the work at FAT Village is most certainly a project of passion. The couple dreamt of working and practicing in the art world as long as they can remember. They met while in school at the Rhode Island School of Design, spent years in New York City working as art fabricators, and moved to the Fort Lauderdale area when Symmons accepted a job teaching at FIU's School of Architecture.

They originally opened a small gallery outside the Village, but once they discovered "his amazing group of artists that wanted to get things going so badly," they never looked back.

Four years ago, they teamed with FAT Village CEO Doug McCraw and, along with the multitude of other artists working in the area, helped form the neighborhood association to institutionalize the now-famous FAT Village Art Walk, every fourth Saturday of the month.

Those evenings, the Village comes alive with visitors and vendors, food trucks, exhibitions, and all manner of healthy community interaction. The large-scale, experimental works at Symmons and Brown's curated space is one of the most exciting attractions.

"I think it's a pretty unique thing for South Florida in general. You don't see too many spaces like this down here, just giant caverns," Symmons says. "We're not focused on the commercial side of things. We want artists to really be able to push what they're doing and create something they wouldn't be able to create anywhere else."

It's precisely because of that unique work and exhibition environment that FAT Village needs the help. Daily exhibiting hours are something the non-profit community needs but can't fund on its own.

"When people from the other art institutions tell people 'go check out FAT Village, thats where the cool art is happening,' people come by and they're like 'OK, so, nothing is open," Brown says. Sure, they can check it out again during art walk, but that's hardly the same.

"That just really doesn't do justice to the amount of time, energy, and money that goes into putting on each of these shows," Brown says. "The artists only have maybe a couple chances for people to see their work, and then it's in a social situation."

"The work is really cool," Symmons says, "and I think it deserves way more attention that it gets."

If awarded the People's Choice Knight Grant, FAT Village would be able to cover its basic operating costs for the next two years, open for daily exhibition hours, and give the rest of the artists and galleries in the neighborhood a stronger, centralized hub. The past four years have been monumental for the Village, but it's time for Symmons and Brown's baby to stop crawling and learn to walk.

"We're just really trying to build the art scene in Broward," Brown says. "We've always been like the forgotten little sister to Miami and the Wynwood District. There's actually a surprising amount of opportunities for artists in Broward; space is less expensive, there is that real sense of community and being welcomed. I don't know, I think it's a good place to be an artist."

Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.

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Kat Bein is a freelance writer and has been described as this publication’s "senior millennial correspondent." She has an impressive, if unhealthy, knowledge of all things pop culture.

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