“It shouldn’t be this difficult for artists to thrive” – Interview with Erica Hawthorne-Manon, Founder and Managing Director of Small But Mighty Arts
Photo Credit: www.smallbutmightyarts.org.
This past spring, the Bartol Foundation announced a new partnership with Small But Mighty Arts (SBMA) to award ten $500 micro-grants to Philadelphia-based teaching artists. As part of our ongoing Q&A series, we spoke with Erica Hawthorne-Manon, Founder and Managing Director of SBMA, to learn more about her work with the Philadelphia arts community and SBMA’s new partnership with the Bartol Foundation.
SBMA is now accepting applications to award five more micro-grants to teaching artists working on community-based projects. The application will close Sunday, September 9. Access the online application here.
Can you tell me a bit about your background in the arts? How did you decide to found Small But Mighty Arts?
I came to Philadelphia as a creative myself. My background is in theatre, writing, and spoken word, which is kind of like a marriage between theatre and poetry. I also have a professional background in public relations and business. I did a lot of “starving artist” things and did my art on the side of my full-time job, even though I wanted to do more. I realized just how challenging it was to be an artist on many different levels, whether it was finding opportunities or being able to expand my skills beyond just performance. I didn’t understand why my peers and I were having such a difficult time—we had talent and skills, but we were always struggling to find the next opportunity. I felt that it shouldn’t be this difficult for artists to thrive, knowing how important the arts are to the community, education, and the creative economy.
Around this same time, a friend suggested I apply for a grant to fund ideas. I pitched three of my ideas, and one was selected—to provide artists with smaller funds during a critical time window. When I was working on my album, I had the experience of being short about $500-1,000 to finish the technical production of the project. I had done the bulk of the work and just needed a little bit of funding so that I wouldn’t have to stop. I pitched this idea to small firms and got awarded a challenge grant, and that’s what brought me to start Small But Mighty Arts.
What is most meaningful to you about SBMA’s work in the community?
The ability to make connections, especially connections that turn into real, tangible opportunities. For me, that’s the whole point of SBMA. Even though we started with micro-grant programs, the purpose is to shorten the distance between an artist and their next career-enhancing opportunity, whether that’s professional development, funding, or marketing and promotion.
Our partnerships with other organizations and programs have also been very valuable. We would not be able to thrive without our partnerships. Many of the artists that we fund through micro-grants we’ve also connected to our partner organizations and other paid opportunities. We always think about what it means to be able to share mission and goals when we partner with organizations in a way that’s powerful for both of us. I think the fact that people are willing to partner with us, even though we’re small, continues to help us expand what we’re able to give back to artists.
What’s been the most rewarding moment from your work with SBMA?
It changes, but right now it’s getting emails from artists that we’ve worked with or funded and hearing that our work with them led them to another opportunity or kept their momentum going. We got an email from one of our 2017 grantees, Irina Varina, who worked on a film that premiered at a film festival in New York, and part of the micro-grant funding that we gave her allowed her to finish that project. Another grantee from 2017 is Amy Schofield, who’s a flamenco dancer. We were able to book her for a performance at the Barnes Foundation, and then the Barnes reached out and wanted to book her again. It’s those types of moments that are really powerful for me. Sometimes we also hear that an SBMA grant is the first one an artist has received, and that grant gives them inspiration to apply for other opportunities. That’s the whole point—that they don’t give up and they’re able to persist, and we make it possible for artists to do that right here in Philadelphia.
SBMA recently partnered with the Bartol Foundation to award micro-grants to teaching artists and to share a staff Artist Engagement Fellow. What drew you to this collaboration with Bartol?
It started with us first supporting each other’s work and sharing information with our networks. We realized that we have very similar missions and goals. We also saw the value in being able to inform our artists, who are not teaching artists, of the opportunity to develop that skill. Bartol was reimagining their focus, and when they reached out to us it made a lot of sense to work together toward a shared mission goal. Through sharing an Artist Engagement Fellow, we’re able to highlight the artists that we’ve funded, and to make sure that there’s shared information between the two organizations about other opportunities for artists.
This partnership has been five years in the making. Not every partnership takes that long, but I will say that our best partnerships have been the ones that we’ve built over time. That’s encouragement to others who are thinking about building partnerships. You are probably already starting by the relationships you are creating. It’s worth building all levels of partnerships—they get very valuable work done for the communities that we serve.
Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.