What Exactly is the Knight Arts Challenge?
October 6, 2017
Pictured above: John S. and James L. Knight, after which all the magic is named, behind the old Miami Herald building on Biscayne Bay.
If you’re tuned into the Miami culture scene, you know that it’s very rare for something to last long in the city–let alone 10 years. A lot of the most incredible projects that have invested time and creative equity in Miami haven’t been able to stick around with some much-needed support. That’s where Knight Foundation and their Knight Arts Challenge came in, ready to lend a financial hand to help get now-favorite happenings like O Cinema, Miami Book Fair, and Little Haiti Cultural Complex off the ground.
In anticipation of their 10th anniversary celebration starting on November 9th with “Lights, Camera, Action: A Miami Movie Night” at Gibson Park in Overtown, we chatted with Victoria Rogers, Vice President – Arts at Knight Foundation understand the roots of the entire grant program and why, of all places, Miami was a chosen city. Check it out:
What prompted Knight Foundation to create Knight Arts Challenge in the first place?
Ten years ago, we could see that Miami’s arts community was poised for growth. We wanted to provide the fuel to help it take off. So we decided to make a big bet on Miami. We began to make large-scale investments in our city’s institutions like the Arsht Center, PAMM, the New World Symphony, the Frost Museum of Science, and the Miami City Ballet, to help them to engage the public in innovative ways. And, through the Challenge we began to fund the more grass roots efforts of individual artists, collectives and smaller organizations. Since 2005, Knight Foundation has invested more than $122 million in the arts in Miami.
On the surface, what is the KAC designed to do or impact in the community? Why the arts?
At Knight, we want to make art general in Miami, so that high-quality arts experiences are seen, felt and heard in neighborhoods and communities all around our city. We know the arts inspire us and challenge us, but they also bring us together as a community and more deeply connect us to each other and the places where we live. That’s particularly important in a city as diverse as Miami. The arts are more than economic drivers, they are the glue that ties us together, and a lens through which we explore humanity.
Are there any other areas Knight would like to strengthen outside of the arts?
After seeing the success the Arts Challenge has had, Knight widened its creative lens and decided to invest in creating a community of entrepreneurs in Miami. Knight has become a catalyst for the entrepreneurship community that has developed here. We’ve made more than 200 investments totaling more than $28 million in in this area. Rather than supporting companies, these investments have helped build an ecosystem, focusing on connecting entrepreneurs, attracting investment and building our local talent base. The idea is that investing in our local innovators can give Miami a strong sense of possibility, help keep our talented workers here, and expand economic opportunity in the city.
What kind of impact has KAC created in Miami specifically?
An independent evaluation found that the Challenge has contributed to the elevated artistic quality of work here in South Florida, by giving artists the time, space and resources needed to create. Playwright Teo Castellanos for example won an Arts Challenge grant that allowed him to attend a writers retreat. His resulting play, Third Trinity, ended up being named by The Miami New Times as the Best New Play of the year. The challenge also spurs innovation and risk taking, because Knight is providing the risk capital people need to make their ideas a reality. And we’re also providing new ways for Miamians to engage in art, whether its seeing a short play in a shipping container, as part of MicroTeatro, or wandering through an art gallery and having a multi-media experience with the combination of visual art and musica at IlluminArts.
How do you go through the application process and eventually decide who wins?
A diverse panel of local readers from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds read through each initial 150-word application, providing their insights as we narrow down the initial submittals to a group of finalists. The finalists then are asked to submit a full, detailed proposal. These proposals are read by staff and our readers with a second review session held to designate potential winners. Final winners are then selected by staff, reviewed by our board and celebrated with the public.
Are there any specific highlights over the past 10 years that feel like KAC has been a success for Knight’s objectives?
Knight Arts has become a catalyst for artistic creation and innovation in South Florida. When the Arts Challenge launched, the arts community was centered in downtown, and was just beginning to expand into Wynwood. Now you can find arts organizations, artists and performances all over Miami-Dade, from Little Haiti, to Doral and Hialeah to South Dade. That’s what we mean by making art general: art experienced as a daily part of our lives, with access to the extraordinary shows, exhibitions, events and performances our winners dream up.
Arts blanketing Miami is becoming a reality, a result of the Challenge as well as the other ways Knight and others have invested in the arts over the years. You see it at the Miami Book Fair with authors from around the world coming to Miami. You encounter the power of poetry throughout our neighborhoods, from prose being dropped from airplanes to stanzas painted on the tops of buildings with O, Miami. Thousands of people enjoy live broadcasts of New World Symphony concerts while sitting on the lawn under the moonlight. And speaking of Moonlight; Moonlight winning an Oscar was wonderful for Miami, but in particular for the indie film community that Knight helped foment. Buskerfest, Nu Deco, Exile Books, Variable Dimensions, AIRIE residences, reimagining of Midnight Summers Dream at the Miami City Ballet, and so many more, all won the Knight Art Challenge.