These days, most of the Native Americans living in and around the Everglades zip through the wetlands in airboats, not canoes. Traditional canoes were made from thousand-year-old cypress trees, which eventually rot. Modern tribal kids with motorized vehicles have had no need to learn to make canoes anymore — and besides, there aren't enough old trees left to make them. In fact, says Robin Merrill, who runs the Mission Gifts fair trade store in Fort Lauderdale and has done spiritual and environmental work with the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes, "even fiberglass replicas [of canoes] are an endangered species."
So she was amazed when she met Pedro O. Zepeda, a member of the Seminole Tribe of Indians and, Merrill says, "one of only a few people left who knows how to carve." An artist herself, Merrill got the idea to help preserve this lost craft and asked Zepeda, "If I get the grant money, would you be able to carve a canoe?"
Getting the grant money, it turned out, was relatively easy, thanks to the Knight Foundation, which awards to projects. The first phase of applications requires only a 150-word description of the proposed project — basically a paragraph! This year, applications are due May 2.
"It's very easy to apply," says Merrill. "But it's got to be something you're able to pull off." If an idea is chosen, applicants will later have to provide more details about budgets and execution.
But sure enough, she won the grant in 2013, and these days, Zepeda can be found in her gallery using an adze and carving wood. Merrill intends for the project to culminate with a
Knight Foundation grants are given in 26 communities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once owned newspapers — one of those being Miami. Lisa Palley, a spokesperson for the foundation, says winners are frequently from Miami proper, but "we are looking for more ideas from Broward-based artists for project ideas for all your communities." The grant has three rules: "The idea is about arts. The project takes place in or benefits South Florida. You find other funding to match the Knight Foundation grant."
Another past winner of the Knight grant is Lolo Reskin, who founded Sweat Records in Miami. As she explained to New Times, she "began to notice how hungry my customers were for locally made art and goods. I wanted to create an online store to supplement our location in Little Haiti and to get more of our items into people's homes. I applied for a grant and won."
She calls the first phase of the Knight application "the easiest grant application I've ever heard of. You simply state your idea and who will benefit. Be as concise as possible. All you have is 150 words to explain it; then hit submit. Done. If you've ever applied for another type of grant, you know how different and simple this one is."
She suggests, "Put all of your passion into those 150 words and tell your best story. A lot of people ask me for advice on winning, and I always tell them two things: First, ask yourself, Am I already working toward this on some level? If not, why? Knight wants to make sure you can carry out a project. They are more likely to fund a person or entity that has a track record of producing something valuable to the arts community. And second, I also tell people that if you don't succeed one year, keep working on your project and submit again the following year. When the challenge comes around, you will have more momentum behind you and your application."
For details and to apply, visit knightfoundation.org.