Red-cheeked kids ran across the green turf on Euclid Oval on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Dogs panted in the summer heat. The sidewalk cafes brimmed with people sipping cold tropical drinks.
It seemed like a typical day on Lincoln Road — until Sam Hyken, in a shiny silver suit, stepped onto a podium in the middle of the circle.
With the wave of his baton, Hyken delivered the cue for musicians toting violins and other instruments to make their way through the crowd. The orchestra burst into Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
With that, more than 200 professional dancers, singers and musicians broke out into a Random Act of Culture: a quick, pop-up performance sponsored by the Knight Foundation.
This one was different, though. It celebrated the more than 1,000 such performances that Knight has sponsored around the country — and the last official act in Miami.
Natali Sotil danced with her young daughter in the crowd as ballerinas lept. The traditional classical music gave way to a jazz rendition, then gospel and then thundering African drums.
It was a pleasant surprise for Sotil, who came to Miami Beach for lunch.
“It’s beautiful, the mixture of classical music with percussion,” she said. “I think art should be more interactive.”
The Knight Foundation’s unannounced performances are the brainchild of Dennis Scholl, the foundation’s vice president of arts, who was inspired by watching video of an impromptu opera performance in a marketplace in Valencia, Spain.
“When we thought about this program originally, we could have said, ‘We are going to do 100 random acts of culture,’ and everyone would have said, ‘Ooh,’ and been very impressed,” Scholl said.
But for some reason, Scholl said, he announced the foundation would stage 1,000 impromptu performances in eight cities around the country. He wondered whether he’d “bitten off more than we could chew.”
They figured it’d take three years to reach their goal. They did it in two.
“It’s such a surprise to me that we’ve gotten this far. It seemed like such a herculean task when we started,” Scholl said.
The impact of the performances have spread well beyond the cities that have hosted them: Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Macon, Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose and St. Paul.
“Many, many other people around the world, when they heard about the program, have also decided to do performances on their own,” Scholl said.
He noted that YouTube videos of the foundation’s pop-up shows have garnered more than 10 million views.
“We never thought when we started that it’d have that kind of impact,” Scholl said.
Even though the foundation is ending its Random Acts of Culture, the pop-up performances aren’t going away.
“Our partners loved it and are going to keep it going,” Scholl said.