Skip to content

John S. & James L Knight Foundation's "Knight Arts Challenge Detroit"


In 2012, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced an initiative to establish a series of crowd-sourced grant-making contests to fund the best art ideas from cities across the country.

The annual contest, previously piloted in Miami, would be localized to reflect the distinct and unique art communities in each participating city, with coordination through Knight Foundation’s national and local art teams.

The Detroit Challenge was initially proposed as a three-year commitment. Van Dyke Horn was contracted to oversee and execute the program’s media launch, as well as all outreach and communications services throughout the various phases of the annual campaign.
Each year, the Challenge invites artists to make a 150-word pitch for their best arts idea, which has only three rules:

1. The idea must be an art-centered project
2. The project must take place in Detroit
3. The artist(s) must raise funds to match Knight Foundation’s grant












To prepare for the 2013 launch of the Knight Arts Challenge in Detroit, Van Dyke Horn worked with Foundation arts staff, along with local arts stakeholders, to develop a comprehensive outreach plan. This outreach incorporated media relations, partnerships with arts organizations and institutions, and street-level promotions that would reach beyond the Midtown and Cultural Center audiences. This would attract new arts ideas from a diverse pool of applicants that authentically represented the breadth of Detroit’s vibrant arts community.

VDH built our outreach strategy around new and existing relationships with members of the Detroit arts community. We connected our local extensive expertise and familiarity with large-scale and grassroots arts groups, as well as individual artists, advocates, and influencers.

Subsequently, VDH also devised a strategy to leverage relationships with critical media to feature local artists and their current projects. These features highlighted the Challenge’s benefits to artists who may have never applied for a grant before, as well as the scope and variety of active projects throughout the city. The media strategy included publicity for the initial application phase through the announcement of finalists and, ultimately, the reveal of each year’s Challenge winners announcement and celebration event.


Since 2013, Van Dyke Horn has led the annual community outreach, media relations, event management and paid advertising campaigns for the Knight Arts Challenge Detroit. We develop and execute all elements of the locally tailored and constantly evolving campaign, from the spring application phase through the fall award ceremony.

A series of community engagement events to promote and provide opportunities to meet with visiting Knight Foundation staff were planned and produced in multiple formats, including large town hall meetings, one-on-one office hours, and small-scale ‘living-room’ meetings hosted by previous winners. Van Dyke Horn reached out to local artists and organizations to support and host outreach events. This outreach encouraged ownership and ongoing partnership between past Knight Arts grantees, Knight Foundation staff, and the Detroit arts community.

Van Dyke Horn also conceived, developed and administered a public promotion campaign known as the “People’s Choice Awards,” where selected Challenge finalists self-drove campaigns to publicize their artistic practice and compete to win an additional cash prize from Knight Foundation through an online voting competition. The resulting media and community attention succeeded in raising the profile of individual artists and groups, and the Challenge as a whole.

Media announcements and promotion of application events and deadlines, finalists, and winning projects have been featured in target publications every year, including broadcast interviews and performances from current and previous winners and Knight Arts executive staff.

Based on its high rate of engagement since its inception, the Knight Arts Challenge Detroit has run continually since 2013. It has been extended twice, most recently in 2018, through an additional $20 million commitment from Knight Foundation to a collection of new and continuing arts initiatives in the city. By the end of 2019, the Challenge awarded over $52 million in matching grants to over 300 new arts ideas in Detroit and continues to fund projects from a variety of disciplines that represent the diverse communities and voices throughout the city.