Performing Arts

Knight Arts to grant $2.5 million this year, applications accepted through May 2

Performers at the Mexican American Council (MAC) co-sponsored Celebracion de la Independencia de Mexico y Centro America held at Tropical Park in Miami in 2014.
Performers at the Mexican American Council (MAC) co-sponsored Celebracion de la Independencia de Mexico y Centro America held at Tropical Park in Miami in 2014. Knight Foundation

As the founder and president of the Mexican-American Council, Maria Garza always wanted to open a mariachi conservatory in Miami.

When she learned about the Knight Arts Challenge, a project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, she applied for a grant of $60,000, that if approved, she would invest in what is now the Miami Mariachi Conservatory in South Dade.

Within the conservatory — which opened in September 2015 — kids from third to eighth grades learn the basics of reading and writing music, the instruments that make up a mariachi band and how to play them.

“We have Mexican, Central American [kids] whose parents work in agriculture and our dream was to allow those kids an opportunity to go learn about their culture, be proud of their heritage and also to be able to share with others about the rich culture of mariachi music,” Garza said. “The role of the Knight Arts Foundation is so important. They’re fulfilling a gap that is missing in the community.”

The Knight Arts Challenge Miami fosters programs by providing funds to people and organizations that want to pursue art-related goals in South Florida. The foundation has invested more than $122 million in Miami’s arts since 2005, and this year through the challenge will give away $2.5 million in grants to those who submit the best ideas.

Through May 2, submissions are being accepted with a three-step requisite: The idea — which should be explained in 150 words — must be about the arts; the project must take place in or benefit South Florida; and the grant recipients must find funds to match Knight’s commitment.

One-on-one feedback about the applications will be given on April 23 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Macondo Coffee Roasters on 2492 NW 89th Pl. and on April 27 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Panther Coffee on 2390 NW Second Ave.

“You can see when you have 10,000 ideas [submitted], how competitive this process is,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president for the arts at Knight Foundation, who will be part of the committee that selects the winners. “We believe that arts are essential in the creation of these vibrant cities and in the places where we want to live. All the human emotions are displayed through the arts and we think for cities to truly be robust, they need to have a really healthy art ecosystem.”

National Water Dance, Artefactis, Miami Girls Rock Camp and Delou Africa have all been awarded grants by the Knight Arts Foundation through the years.

Njeri Plato, director of Delou Africa, won a grant of $15,000 in 2015. She used it to bring back Dance Africa Miami — a network of African movements through dance and music — by using programs that teach children and adults the rhythms of Africa, movement in rhythms, drama and dance of Africa.

“Dance Africa Miami will be used to bring Forces of Nature, which is part of the African Diaspora, that will happen in August,” Plato said. “We decided that we wanted to showcase the rich tradition of Africa, and the first place to start is with our youth, so we are actually training them to become a junior company. So, it’s Dance Africa Miami in collaboration with Delou Africa, to present Forces of Nature.”

Hannah Rose Nicholas, Nathaniel Wolkstein and David Connor also received a grant in 2015. The three met through the New World Symphony and later formed their band, The Alt Default.

The Alt Default, won a grant of $9,000, for a project that involves working with music and middle school students.

“Since it can be a very tough age and a very tumultuous age, music is such an incredible outlet at that time,” said Nicholas, who plays the viola and sings. “We really wanted to create a program for students that would be very freeing and liberating and something that would allow them to be as creative as they wanted to be but also something that allowed them good skills and tools to help them.”

The project, dubbed Collaborative Songwriting Residency, takes place at Fienberg-Fisher K-8 Center in Miami Beach.

Follow @CataBalzano on Twitter and Instagram

For more information

Knight Arts Challenge:

Miami Mariachi Conservatory:

Delou Africa:

Collaborative Songwriting Residency by The Alt Default:

Applications for the 2016 Knight Arts Challenge Miami, can be found at