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Knight Arts Challenge seeking projects to revitalize neighborhoods



Knight Arts Challenge

Big Night in Little Haiti

6 to 10 p.m., Feb. 21

Little Haiti Cultural Center, 12 NE 59th Terr., Miami


Friday Nights of Rhythm at South Florida Center for Percussive Arts

Every Friday Night

12600 SW 130th St. #9-10

From the cover

Drummer Ti Wes, a member of the band Skah Shah #1, performs during the Big Night in Little Haiti .

Unique cultural arts projects help make Miami special.

And the Knight Arts Challenge is seeking to find those projects and fund them.

Since its inception in 2008, the Challenge, part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has given more than $22 million to 193 projects. Among the recipients: a Haitian concert series, a drumming master class and murals in an Overtown park to highlight the contributions of the Negro League baseball players.

The 150-word application looks for projects that will broaden the South Florida arts community; the deadline to apply is Feb. 24.

“We believe that arts help people connect to their place … and help to reflect and define who we are as a community,” said Tatiana Hernandez, the Foundation’s program officer for the arts.

Past recipients include Big Night in Little Haiti, a free monthly concert that brings together local musicians and artists at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59th Terr. The project came about after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti turned media attention to the island’s death and destruction.

Laura Quinlan, executive director of the Miami Beach-based Rhythm Foundation, wanted to focus on some of Haiti’s great qualities.

“I was just thinking about the really great aspects of Haitian culture — the music, the visual art, the entrepreneurial spirit of Haitian people,” Quinlan said.

The concert now averages 2,000 people every third Friday at the Cultural Center, Quinlan said. Going into its fourth year, the Rhythm Foundation is focusing on turning Big Night in Little Haiti into a self-sustained event.

Big Night has received two grants from the Knight Foundation. The first was aimed at starting up the monthly concert. The second focuses on bringing together partnerships. The group is working with Florida International University’s Latin American and Caribbean Center and Haiti’s Consulate-General to support the project.

Quinlan said the Knight Foundation’s backing has made a difference.

“The support that they give and the way that they give it really transforms projects…they give their grants in such a spirit of innovation,” she said.

Working with Knight has also benefited the Rhythm Foundation.

“It's introduced us to people who we would never have had a chance to work with.… it’s really redefined our mission,” she said.

Brandon Cruz won a grant in 2012 to start a drumming master class in Southwest Miami-Dade. He wanted to bring percussion artists to Miami to teach both youths and adults alike.

“One of the most important things that I found was lacking in the music community here was ... access to artists who are well known in the community but don’t usually get down here,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s project, “Friday Nights of Rhythm,” takes place weekly at the South Florida Center for Percussive Arts, bringing together a master class with an artist, as well as a drum jam. The classes are free, and Hunter hopes to bring in three local artists and one national name per month.

He also hopes to expose people to new types of music.

“Maybe someone who is into heavy metal will get to see someone playing marimba,” Cruz said.

Grant recipients must find funds to match the Knight grant within a year of receiving the award. All projects must be related to the arts, and take place in or benefit South Florida in some way.

Hernandez said the Foundation works with grant recipients to raise the additional funds if they need help. Rather than just giving the grants, the Foundation wants to teach the community how to sustain their projects.

Projects don’t need to be big or expensive, either. The Foundation gave a grant to URGENT, Inc., to paint murals in Overtown’s historic Dorsey Park to commemorate the Negro League baseball players who played there. The park was the local home of the Negro League in the 1940s.

URGENT Director Emily Diane Gunter wanted to fix up the park, 1701 NW First Ave., and teach kids and teens about its local history. The nonprofit teaches local youth how to bring about change in their own communities.

“This is the only park where they played baseball when the Negro League came to Miami … there was no sign of that anywhere,” Gunter said.

According to Gunter, baseball greats like Jackie Robinson once played at the park. She hopes the 30 murals will commemorate the players’ historic feats. But her ultimate hope for the project goes beyond the murals.

Gunter wants the park to become “a beacon of light for the community’’ and for “children to know that they can beautify their own community,” she said.

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