Press Release

Digital Media Challenge Offers $100K in Prizes For Fresh Ideas on Democracy

CHICAGO, IL February 4, 2013—Today marks the launch of a new digital media challenge that seeks to start a national conversation on ideas and solutions to improve American democracy, with cash prizes for the most fresh and creative submissions.   

Looking@Democracy is a national competition offering a total of $100,000 in prize money for short, provocative media submissions designed to spark a national conversation about why government is important to our lives, or how individuals and communities can come together to strengthen American democracy. Launching today, February 4, 2013, the challenge will award $25,000 for First Place along with significant prizes for 2nd and 3rd place as well as categories and awards for People’s Choice and Emerging Artists. 

Examples of welcome submissions would be addressing a critical topic that is absent from the national debate, looking at data and exploring the stories behind them, or highlighting an aspect about democracy taking place on a local level. By making submissions in any digital format welcome, the challenge hopes to engage with independent media makers, investigative reporters, students, graphic designers and artists – anyone with creative ideas to help engage Americans and shift the political discussion in a fresh and engaging way. 

Looking@Democracy is a project of the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC), with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Through new initiatives and past work, the two organizations have shown their commitment in providing platforms for more people to understand and participate in the democratic system through creative means. 

 “So much of our information today is shared electronically, whether it be through videos, podcasts, graphic art, or even through mobile phone apps,.” said Kristina Valaitis, Executive Director of the Illinois Humanities Council. “With Looking@Democracy, we hope to harness the potential of digital media to welcome new voices and start conversations about real, reasonable ways to improve our nation, our communities, and our lives.”  

“Given our perception that the political system has failed to adequately address major issues confronting the nation, MacArthur seeks to stimulate discussion about the future of the Republic and invests in promising ideas to help enhance democratic ideals, institutions, and practices,” said MacArthur President Robert Gallucci.  “This new public competition is all about engaging citizens and encouraging them to apply their creative talents and offer their ideas to strengthen American democracy.”    

A panel of expert judges from media and non-profits will judge the submissions, which include Maria Hinojosa of Public Radio’s Latino USA, Filmmaker Byron Hurt (Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes) and Ian Inaba, film director (American Blackout) and Executive Director of the Citizen Engagement Laboratory. 

Looking@Democracy submissions will be accepting submissions today through April 30, 2013. Full challenge rules and submission information can be found by visiting the website .   

About the Judges
Kevin Coval:
Kevin Coval is an author and co-founder & artistic director of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Teen Poetry Festival.   

Maria Hinojosa: María Hinojosa is the founder of Futuro Media Group and anchor and executive producer of Latino USA, and has been listed as one of the 100 most influential Latinos in the United States by Hispanic Business Magazine three times.  

Byron Hurt: Byron Hurt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker (Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Soulf Food Junkies), a published writer, and activist.

Ian Inaba: Ian Inaba is an award-winning director (American Blackout), author (True Lies) and Executive Director of the Citizen Engagement Laboratory.    

Wendy Levy: Wendy Levy is a co-founder of Sparkwise and media advisor with the Sundance Institute. 

About the Illinois Humanities Council

The Illinois Humanities Council is an independent, nonprofit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, dedicated to fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities. The IHC creates programs and funds organizations that promote greater understanding of,
appreciation for, and involvement in the humanities by all Illinoisans, regardless of their economic resources, cultural background, or geographic location. In 2008, the IHC presented “Looking for Democracy, a short film contest that encouraged filmmakers to unleash their radical imaginations and look for democracy in creative and unusual spaces. The IHC is supported by state, federal, and private funds.  

About the MacArthur Foundation

The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. The Foundation is exploring the question of how to strengthen democracy in the U.S., given its perception that the political system has failed to adequately address major issues confronting the nation. More information is at 

Media Contact:
Carlos Velázquez  
Illinois Humanities Council
Communications Manager
(312) 422-5580, x233 

Andrew Solomon
MacArthur Foundation
VP, Public Affairs
(312) 917-0313