A Mighty Jayhawk

Last year, Erica Hawthorne — who studied business communications in the School of Journalism at the University of Kansas — won a $60,000 challenge grant from the Knight Foundation. In the next two years, she plans to continue fundraising for the matching amount and redistributing much of the money through her own Small But Mighty Arts Grant. These microgrants from $200 to $1,000 will help aspiring artists gain momentum.

Now, as she prepares to pilot the program and give away the first microgrants, Hawthorne remembers her time as a Jayhawk, which she credits with preparing her to manage both her creative and her business lives. As a student, she worked in the Multicultural Resource Center, and was a member of the Multicultural Scholars Program.  After she graduated, she completed a master’s in African-American Studies at Temple University.

“All those experiences were helpful to me as an artist and a professional,” Hawthorne says, speaking of KU. “And now I’m in a position to help other artists by connecting them to career-enhancing resources and professional development opportunities.”

Although it might not seem like much, Hawthorne believes small sums can make a difference. Whether artists need supplies like sketchpads and charcoal pencils, or photography equipment like a digital single-lens reflex camera, the Small But Mighty Arts Grant will help them finance their creativity without sacrificing other necessities — food, for example, or rent.

To participate in the $2.76 million competition that funds the microgrants, called the Knight Arts Challenge, Hawthorne had to follow three basic rules. One, her idea had to be about the arts. Two, her project had to take place in or benefit Philadelphia. And three, she had to find other funding to match the grant.

Hawthorne knows how helpful even small sums of money can be to an artist working on a long-term project. Throughout her career, she has been a poet, actor, and performance artist, often under the name RhapsodE; she recorded a studio album in 2006, Spoke Inward, which is available on iTunes.

“I will never stop being an artist, I’ll continue to create,” Hawthorne says. Right now, though, she wants to focus on the Small But Mighty Arts nonprofit. “In this window of time, I’m interested in creating the structures and the programs that will help artist be successful.”

In addition to her work as a poet and performance artist, Hawthorne recently accepted a job at Campus Philly as the Open Arts program manager. Her job is to connect college students to arts and culture in Philadelphia.

“I am an artist,” Hawthorne says, “and I’m an artists’ advocate.” 

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