Melting guns into musical instruments? That's just 1 idea to transform Miami

Guitars Over Guns founder Chad Bernstein, left, with North Miami Middle School student Esther Lexine in 2012; Bernstein’s plan to turn guns into musical instruments is a finalist for a Knight Arts Challenge grant.
Guitars Over Guns founder Chad Bernstein, left, with North Miami Middle School student Esther Lexine in 2012; Bernstein’s plan to turn guns into musical instruments is a finalist for a Knight Arts Challenge grant. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD/HERALD FILE

From making musical instruments out of melted down guns to artists becoming problem-solvers with local government to an international celebration of dancers with disabilities, the 68 finalists for this year’s Knight Arts Challenge Miami program represent an impressive range of creative ideas.

The winners, who earn awards ranging from a few thousand dollars to well into six figures, will be announced on Nov. 28, at the start of Miami Arts Week.

Many of this year’s finalists, selected from almost 1,000 applicants, focus on bringing art out of traditional venues and into neighborhoods and communities, reflecting the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s goal of making the arts widely accessible.

“That all ties in with our desire to be sure the arts are general in South Florida,” says Victoria Rogers, Knight’s vice president for arts. “We’re taking art to where people are, where people can encounter it in their daily lives. We’re breaking down barriers to access, and that is crucial.”

Community-oriented projects include ArtCenter/South Florida’s plan to place artists with city governments to advise on policy solutions; Combat Hippies’ idea for an original performance based on stories of local veterans and Middle East refugees; and Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator’s plan to send Caribbean artists into South Florida neighborhoods to create artworks based on stories they hear there. Guitars Over Guns, a group that teaches music to middle school kids to combat the influence (and effect) of violence, wants to work with police to recast guns and bullet casings into musical instruments. A number of proposals aim to put murals on city streets, or bring artists to teach in libraries or schools, or expand jazz festivals or film programs with educational efforts.

Winners must match the Knight grants with other funding. The foundation has invested more than $122 million in the arts in South Florida, and the Challenge program, now in its ninth year, has done much to shape the cultural landscape.

Rogers says the foundation has expanded its efforts to teach more neighborhoods and communities about how to apply to the program. Unlike most arts funding, which is restricted to established nonprofit organizations, a Challenge grant can go to an individual or unincorporated group.

“We’re looking for voices from a range of our neighborhoods,” Rogers says. “Now you’re getting submissions from Doral and West Kendall and Little Haiti and Homestead. The diversity of our communities is being reflected.”

Among those diverse applicants are Sosyete Koukouy, which hopes to re-create a Haitian village on the streets of Miami and a Native American film festival. Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste hopes to explore connections between Haitian and Cuban cultures with a photo exhibit and book.

Exchange with Cuba is another theme this year, including the Cintas Foundation’s creative writing fellowships for writers on the island and in exile, and longtime Afro-Cuban dance troupe IFE-ILE’s plan to bring teachers and dancers from Cuba for the group’s annual summer festival. There are a number of dance proposals as well, including one from Karen Peterson and Dancers, which works with disabled dancers, for an international festival, and Alma Dance Theater’s idea to use dance to engage people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Two others would bring Miami-raised dance artists back home: Jamar Roberts, a star with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Chris Rudd, who started with the scholarship program at South Dade’s Thomas Armour Youth Ballet.

The proposals were chosen in part for their inventiveness in how they connect to the community, something Rogers says reflects Miami’s cultural growth.

“The applications reflect a much more sophisticated approach and are still authentic and reflect very diverse voices,” Rogers says. “It is a reflection of just how vibrant Miami truly is.”

List of 2016 Knight Arts Challenge Miami Finalists

III Points Festival

To provide a platform for local artists by commissioning them to create large-scale installations on the festival grounds with the prospect of moving them to other locations throughout the year

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

To introduce South Florida’s hip-hop culture to an international audience by bringing the Breakin’ Convention, a festival of dance and theater, to Miami

Ali Cultural Arts

To expand the presence of women in the audio engineering industry with a training program for young women and girls in a historic Pompano Beach building that once boarded African-American jazz musicians

Alma Dance Theater

To use contemporary dance to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and to engage people afflicted by them

Amir Baradaran

To rethink how people produce knowledge and share memories with a large-scale, participatory art project that uses augmented reality and artificial intelligence

Angel Fraser-Logan Dance Company

To inspire a love of dance by bringing Miami native and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jamar Roberts to South Florida to mentor and teach students, and to choreograph and perform new work

ArtCenter/South Florida

To bring art into public planning by embedding artists into city governments as part of a residency program that helps to develop solutions to policy concerns

Artists Within Reach Collective

To foster the next generation of artists by having well-known artists offer professional guidance to young creatives by addressing the question, “If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?”

Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRE)

To tell the story of the cultural and ecological forces that shape South Florida by opening a permanent gallery at Everglades National Park’s Ernest Coe Visitor Center, the only space in the country devoted to contemporary art within a national park

The Barnyard

To bring Coconut Grove together with an art and culinary event inspired by Judy Chicago’s famous 1979 art installation, “The Dinner Party”

Bas Fisher Invitational

To experiment with new models for presenting art through Nomadic Miami, a series of roving exhibitions, performances and programs in specific locations determined by cutting-edge artists

Nerissa Street

To train South Florida’s teen girls to become leaders in film and media by immersing them in the production of a short film from script to screening in four weeks

Alexey Taran

To explore the dark side of desire, disorders and inner struggles through an experimental theater performance incorporating artists from both sides of the Florida Straits

Boca Raton Museum of Art

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Everglades National Park by commissioning glass artist Koen Vanmechelen to meet with residents and scientists in South Florida and create an exhibition based on the environmental issues facing the region

The Bridge

To provide artistic support for musicians by building out an event space and recording room with free production and streaming services

CANVAS Art Charities

To infuse a neighborhood with art with the CANVAS Outdoor Museum, which connects five underused blocks along the West Palm Beach waterfront with installations, including one powered by solar panels that will light the area for nighttime use

Carl Juste

To explore the many layers and similarities between Cuban and Haitian cultures through

a book of photographs and essays, and an accompanying exhibition

CINTAS Foundation

To celebrate Cuban writers through new fellowships in creative writing for Cubans living on the island and in exile

City Theatre

To create a new format for musical theater with the 10-Minute Musical Initiative, a platform for short pieces by the producers of the Summer Shorts series


To engage the community in restoring the art installations in Coconut Grove’s Elizabeth Virrick Park to reflect the original vision of architect Kenneth Treister

Combat Hippies

To encourage public conversations about the trauma of war by touring a new spoken word based on the stories of local veterans and refugees from the Middle East

Community Justice Project

To engage new audiences in the literary arts by bringing workshops led by poet Aja Monet to grassroots leaders involved in social justice issues

Dana De Greff

To foster a love of words at an early age with PageSlayers, a weeklong summer camp for Opa-locka fourth- and fifth-graders that exposes them to writing beyond the standard school curriculum

Dance NOW! Miami

To engage South Florida audiences with the restaging of “Ritmo Jondo,” a pioneering work of modern dance created in 1953 and set to the music of Catalan composer Carlos Surinach

Dania Beach Creative Arts Council

To enliven neighborhoods and provide employment for artists by creating murals across the city

Design and Architecture High School

To develop the skills of young animators by offering student workshops with local professionals on scriptwriting, storyboarding and more, in addition to screening student films

Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator

To connect Caribbean communities and artists by commissioning 20 artists to spend time in South Florida neighborhoods, conduct community-focused research and create public artworks that respond to people’s stories and histories

Everett Osceola

To highlight the words and works of indigenous peoples by launching the first southeastern Native American film festival

April JAMM Festival

To celebrate jazz by expanding the April jazz festival at a local club to venues around Miami and including master classes and school lectures

Florida International University

To honor Miami’s Cuban heritage by creating cultural exchanges between Havana and Miami guitar orchestras at the Miami International GuitART Festival

Florida International University

To celebrate contemporary approaches to art and design by bringing experts in Germany’s Bauhaus movement and Leonardo da Vinci’s art to present exhibits, lectures and courses in 2019

Fringe Projects

To stretch the bounds of public art by partnering with R&R Studios on BEAUTY FOR ALL!!!, an LED-activated mural in downtown Miami that counteracts the ever-present messages of consumption on signs in the city

Guitars Over Guns

To use art to oppose violence by collaborating with police to melt bullet casings and guns and recast them into musical instruments that will lead a peace rally involving local musicians and artists of all ages and backgrounds

Historic Hampton House Community Trust

To build on the legacy of the Historic Hampton House, the segregation-era motel in Brownsville once home to a popular jazz club, with a music education program for local youth


To connect South Floridians to the impact and emotion of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew with a large-scale exhibition on the 25th anniversary of the hurricane’s landfall

Hotbox Art

To create a catalyst for transforming a West Palm Beach historic district by turning the shotgun homes there into spaces for artist residencies and community engagement


To link Afro-Cuban culture in Miami and Havana by providing dancers and instructors from the island to participate in a cultural exchange project as part of the group’s annual summer dance festival

Interactive Initiative

To engage neighborhoods in art by transforming building facades with large-scale projections of interactive video and animations by local artists

Juggerknot Theatre Company

To explore Miami’s many layers by presenting immersive, real-time theater experiences in three motel rooms that tell the stories of three of Miami’s emerging neighborhoods

Karen Peterson Dancers

To promote Miami as a leader in inclusive arts by launching the first International Physically Integrated Dance Festival featuring dancers with and without disabilities performing together

Key West Literary Seminar

To instill pride in Florida’s place in American literature by providing a free, five-day summer program for Key West High School students on the literary and cultural history of the island

Sosyete Koukouy

To immerse more South Floridians in Haitian culture by recreating a Haitian village on the streets of Miami where visitors can experience the country’s culture

Locust Projects

To provide artists with the tools they need to do their work by creating a lending library of items such as power tools, a 3-D printer, video production equipment and more

Michael Graves Education Inc.

To heighten public awareness about the importance of the Everglades to Miami’s future with life-size sculptures of endangered animals made through origami

Miami Beach Cinematheque

To bring a rare collection to the community by digitizing and displaying the cinematheque’s archive of film memorabilia and ephemera.

Miami Classical Guitar Society

To elevate Miami’s classical guitar culture through concerts by internationally renowned guitarists, an international competition, educational master classes and live stream of the society’s annual festival

Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs

To engage the community in the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s first local performance in a decade, with activities surrounding the event at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center

Miami Hispanic Ballet Corp.

To bring a world-class dance experience to Miami’s multicultural audiences through

the International Ballet Festival of Miami, which presents more than 20 companies from around the world in addition to workshops and classes

Miami Light Project

To explore the art of cabaret by bringing the Philadelphia-based Bearded Ladies Cabaret to Miami for workshops that culminate in a performance with local and Philly-based performers

Miami Music Club

To create a space for underground musicians and artists to come together by producing a series of concerts at traditional art spaces

Miami Music Institute

To explore race relations in American history by presenting two operas at the Miami Music Festival, “Appomattox” by Philip Glass and “Let Freedom Sing” by Bruce Adolphe, coupled with community programming

Miami New Drama

To find common ground for diverse audiences by creating bilingual adaptions of classic plays including “Our Town,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Miss Julie” at the Colony Theatre

Nathaniel Sandler

To introduce more people to the collections of museums through essays, tours and events focused on the many interesting items the institutions have but aren’t able to display year round


To immerse neighborhoods in the arts by placing emerging artists in five libraries where they will have studio space in exchange for teaching arts classes in low-income communities

Children’s Hope Chest of Dreams

To bring the best in African-diaspora cinema to Overtown through a new film series at the Lyric Theater and nearby Gibson Park

Ramiro Almeida

To provoke conversations about downtown Miami today, and what it could be in the future, by building a replica of the area using Legos and having artists exhibit their work throughout it

Reading Queer

To bring more queer voices to South Florida by expanding the annual Reading Queer Literary Festival with a series of main stage performances, writers’ workshops and literary installations

Storefront for Art and Architecture

To demonstrate how South Florida can adapt and flourish in times of rising sea levels by having artists and designers propose solutions at an ideas festival

Rhythm Foundation

To create a cultural dialogue with communities hit by terrorism and war through “Axis of Love,” a concert series featuring instrumental music from conflict zones

RudduR Dance

To inspire the next generation of dancers with a mentorship program that culminates with a site-specific show at a historic landmark

Susan Karie Braun

To connect Miamians through immersive storytelling with “Metronovelas,” a weekly short-film series that “premieres” on Miami-Dade Public Transit when riders cue it using an augmented reality app

Symone Titania

To tell the stories of the barbecue vendors of South Dade’s Goulds neighborhood with a photo documentary project and community celebration

Tarell Alvin McCraney

To create the 305/One Festival, which celebrates the unique storytelling and solo performers coming out of Miami with a series of performances, film screenings and cultural activities

The M Ensemble

To promote a new home for theater in Liberty City, Sandrell Rivers Theater, where M Ensemble will be a resident company, with a yearlong engagement initiative

Torrance Carter

To foster the love and knowledge of film among students by bringing AdHoc Cinema, a traveling film and music series, to local schools

The Screening Room

To expand multimedia artistic programming in Miami through new installations at Wynwood’s The Screening Room

Wifredo Fernandez

To develop a space for creatives in the Overtown/Miami River District that provides lodging, a café, and creative work and commercial space space for artists and entrepreneurs

National YoungArts Foundation

To showcase artistic talent by expanding the free, outdoor Outside the Box series featuring new and reimagined multidisciplinary mash-ups created by talented YoungArts alumni at the organization’s iconic space