Arts Garage Wins Knight Arts Challenge and People's Choice Award

Every year, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami gives out $23 million in grants to area arts nonprofits and privately owned companies through its Knights Arts Challenge. This year they instituted a new award, the Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice Award worth $20,000. The latter was decided based on votes received via text messages.

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The winner of that new award was the Arts Garage in Delray Beach. Not only are they the first ever to win the award, but they are the only organization in Palm Beach County to win any award this year. And all this at only 18 months old too -- most theaters wouldn't even be walking yet.

Alyona Ushe is the executive director at the burgeoning arts center located in the heart of dowtown Delray Beach.

Ushe and the staff of the Arts Garage knew they'd been awarded the $30,000, Knights Arts Challenge grant, though they were sworn to secrecy until last week's awards ceremony. The People's Choice Award was another matter all together.

"We're beyond thrilled," says Ushe. "They did a phenomenal job of keeping it a secret. It was very KGB." Ushe laughs, and explains she's Russian. "Or you might say, 'CIA.'"

The $20,000, from the People's Choice Award has no strings attached, but the traditional challenge grant of $30,000 requires the recipient to raise matching funds. Provided, the Arts Garage does so, they will be looking at an influx of $80,000. A lot can be done with $80,000.

"We have a couple of major initiatives -- we have a great education program, the Performing Arts Academy and we want to expand it and reach out to schools," says Ushe. "And the other component is in enhancing emerging artists. We already work with some local artists but we want to put more emphasis on that and make sure the emerging regional artists and musicians have a stage for their talent. We are so much a part of the region, and we want to make sure we are a continuing part of the success of those aritsts."

Ushe says that even more important than the money -- which she says will be an enormous help -- is the nod of recognition from such a prestigious and respected supporter of the arts as the Knight Foundation.

"It's a huge honor to be chosen from the many organizations -- over a thousand -- that apply. A huge honor for an 18-month old arts organization."

While the bump that they'll get from the award will be helpful, Ushe and her team now need to raise the $30,000 in matching funds before they can receive the primary grant. They plan to call on their existing donors, but for as a young organization they will truly be relying on the community at large to help fill in the gap. 

"Our internal plan is to try to do it by the end of the year. We have launched our end of the year funding drive and hopefully we will get some new donors."

The Arts Garage has two major fundraisers -- the Anniversary Gala in April and the Grunge and Glamour season kick off event in November. Since these events have passed, this new drive will take place primarily online.

Ushe's plea is simple and straightforward: "If you come to us, if you like us, if you like what we're doing, then please donate so we can keep doing it."

If you want to help support the Arts Garage, visit artsgarage.orgAnd check out the Arts Garage latest offering Exit, Pursued By Bear which opens Friday and runs through December 30. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays, 2 p.m. Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $30 to $40. Call 561-450-6357, or visit The Arts Garage is located at at 180 NE First St. in Delray Beach.