Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice: Rise Up Gallery Finds Art in Injury

The Knight Arts Challenge South Florida 2015 People's Choice Awards nominees are live. The community can vote now through November 17 via text message for one of four selected Knight Arts Challenge finalists to receive $20,000 to fund their projects. It's a text-to-vote campaign: pick your favorite group, and text their code to 22333. Of the 73 finalists, the four 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.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes those bad things are life-altering injuries that make one call into question such basic notions as hope and purpose. When David McCauley dove head first into a friend's pool in the summer of 2008 and suffered a C6 spinal injury, his new existence as a quadriplegic could have taken a dark turn. Instead, after he was introduced to art therapy during a grueling four months of rehab, he saw a colorful outlook on the horizon.

McCauley made the transition from the hard capitalism of Wall Street to a philanthropic life dedicated to helping others who had endured traumas similar to his. In 2010, he founded a nonprofit organization, Rise Up to Cure Paralysis, in New Jersey. Two years later, he headed south and headquartered Rise Up in Miami Beach. However, the heart of the program is the Rise Up Gallery exhibition space in Little Haiti in a former laundromat.

Rise Up Gallery is completely volunteer based, funded through the sale of artwork done by its residents, donations, and, of course, grants such as the Knights Art Challenge. This year Rise Up is one of the four finalists, out of over more than 1,000 submissions, in the competition. The Knights Art Challenge only has three simple requirements of its applicants: the idea must be focused around, it benefits South Florida, and that additional funding is found to match the Knight Foundation grant.

If they are indeed selected for the honor, McCauley already knows where the funds would go. “We would use the award money to expand our workshops and partnerships to offer artistic programming in the Little Haiti community. [We're] currently discussing a collaboration with the art department at Edison High School.” And if they don't, well, there's always the kindness of strangers. “Supporters are always welcome to donate their time as volunteers and of course financially to help pay for supplies, space, and instructors.”

Not only does Rise Up meet the criteria put forth by the Knight Foundation, they surpass it by providing a true service to individuals with spinal cord injuries, severe brain injuries, and multiple sclerosis. In doing so, the therapeutic art workshops serve the community at large with a treasure trove of art. The collaboration between Jackson Memorial Hospital and Rise Up Gallery results in something very special.

And while yes, Rise Up Gallery does require our charity because it is a nonprofit, the artists featured are by no means charity cases. In addition to the personal healing factor, their works are beautiful, brilliant, inspiring, and thought-provoking. The current collection of local and emerging artists offer a diverse array of styles and visions. From the fantastical tiki-based imagery of Jay Liesener to the vibrant, abstract pieces by Isabell Villacis, crafting art despite her cerebral palsy, to the rich and rustic photography of Kate Patterson who underwent not one, but two traumatic injuries, the artwork is as relentless as these artists are in their pursuit of full lives.  

The Knights Arts Challenge winners will be announced on November 30. You can learn more about the competition at, and about Rise Up Gallery at
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Angel Melendez is an unabashed geek and a massive music nerd. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University and an accomplished failure at two other universities, Angel is a lush and an insufferable know-it-all, and has way better taste in music than you.
Contact: Angel Melendez