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Orange Theatre Among Top Grant Winners at Arizona Art Tank 2015

Business types will tell you it's best to keep a one-minute "elevator speech" at the ready. Typically, that's about all the time you get to reply after someone asks about what you make or do.

But 32 Arizona artists and arts organizations had the luxury of a full six minutes to pitch their "innovative arts-based ventures" during this year's round of Arizona Art Tank events presented by the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

"It's fascinating to see how different artists explain the work they're doing and the work they want to do," says Robert Booker, executive director for Arizona Commission on the Arts. When the Arizona Association of the Deaf pitched their venture in Peoria, an on-stage presenter used sign language while a translator in front of the audience helped those not proficient in American Sign Language to understand their words. "Everybody that presented this year was really at the top of their game," Booker says.

See also: Arizona Art Tank 2015 Offers Funding Opportunity to 32 Art Ventures

Arizona Art Tank 2015 kicked off on January 12 at Chandler Center for the Arts, where spoken word poet Myrlin Hepworth rocked the emcee vibe with humor and heart. "So many of these programs are bringing light into communities that are marginalized," he told the Chandler crowd. "It's a beautiful, beautiful thing."

The Emerson Fry Bread truck pulled up outside and the Arizona Folk Ensemble (featuring musicians from Tucson's Run Boy Run) performed in the lobby, which helps to explain why watching folks get art grants is more exciting than you might think.

After presenting Arizona Art Tank at Star Studios in Bisbee and Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, this year's pitch-palooza concluded January 20 at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts -- where folks enjoyed music by Revizorm, food truck fare by Queso Good and the emcee talents of Lauren Henschen.

This is the second year Arizona Commission on the Arts has presented the Art Tank grants. A total of $124,000 was awarded to 21 arts-based ventures during Arizona Art Tank 2014. This year they split $119,000 between 16 ventures.

Winning ventures range from The Bridge Project fostering gender equality in Arizona theater to Childsplay adapting performances for audience members on the autism spectrum.

Booker notes that several ventures, such as Rag Collection working with Such Styles to present visual art workshops to youth in under-served regions, involve arts collaborations.

Like last year, 2015 contenders competed before panels of experts chosen by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, as well as members of the public who heeded the call to hit the free events so they could help to choose an audience favorite.

At each of this year's events, the arts venture that got the most audience votes received a $1,000 APS Innovation Award. Those awards went to Sedona Arts Center, Arizona Association of the Deaf, Childsplay, and artist Gretchen Baer.

Those last two also landed the highest possible grant award of $10,000, as did Orange Theatre (the troupe that also won a Big Brain Award in 2014) and AZCulture.com, which partnered with the Town of Clarkdale.

"The awards are all about innovation and creativity," explains Booker. "We want to help organizations imagine what's possible outside the box and to think beyond business as usual."

Ventures awarded $8,000 include Essential Theatre, Arts Express, Prescott College Art Gallery at Sam Hill Warehouse, and Teatro Bravo. Grants for $6,000 went to The Bridge Project, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Arizona Association of the Deaf. Grants for $5,000 went to ProMusica Arizona, Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Sedona Arts Center, Canyon Movement Company, and Rag Collection.

Expert panelists at each site were looking for art ventures that demonstrate innovation, responsiveness, and impact -- and made their choices during intermission. Audiences and presenters reconvene after intermission for the announcement of that night's results. It beats the heck out of giving elevator speeches.

Some well-known organizations, including the Musical Instrument Museum and Phoenix Theatre, failed to secure grant funding through the Arizona Art Tank process. So too did Sprawler, Space 55, and several more.

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But by now, they're likely closer to mastering the fine art of the elevator speech -- and you never know what that might get you down the road.

Whether we see another round of Arizona Art Tank events in 2016 depends on how arts funding fares in the new governor's budget. Booker was pleased that several legislators participated as panelists and guests during this year's events -- which demonstrates their interest in fostering community innovations through the arts.

Artists and others eager to learn more about policy and decision makers influencing arts and culture in and beyond metro Phoenix can visit the Arizona Commission for the Arts website and register on the Arizona Citizens for the Arts website to attend an arts advocacy event called Art Congress 2015 taking place on February 3 at the Arizona State Capitol.

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