Performing Arts

Knight Arts Challenge to help fund South Florida community arts groups and individuals

Maria Garza of the Mexican-American Council and 4-year-old old Delayla Irene Gasca in her Mariachi costume share a light moment in front of the offices of the Mexican American Council in Homestead.
Maria Garza of the Mexican-American Council and 4-year-old old Delayla Irene Gasca in her Mariachi costume share a light moment in front of the offices of the Mexican American Council in Homestead. el Nuevo Herald

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is looking to fund this year’s brightest ideas for bringing the community together through the arts.

Beginning Jan. 26, South Floridians can apply for the Knight Arts Challenge. The deadline to apply is Feb. 23.

The 2014 Knight Arts Challenge awarded more than $2 million to 47 arts groups and individuals. The diverse ideas ranged from a photo exhibition documenting South Florida life in HistoryMiami to launching an arts residency program in Stiltsville to a wacky kinetic sculpture parade in Key West.

“The important thing about the challenge is that it digs deep into many neighborhoods in South Florida,” said Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts for the Knight Foundation. “I believe that our goals of bringing artistic excellence to communities and encouraging arts organizations to look for new ways to engage their audiences are critical to the future health and welfare of our communities.”

There are three rules for the challenge: The idea must be about the arts, the idea must benefit or take place in South Florida, and winners must match the foundation’s grant commitment through outside funds.

It’s not hard to apply. Applicants can give their best idea for the arts in just 150 words.

“We don’t want the idea of applying for philanthropic support to be intimidating,” Scholl said.

Here is a look at some of last year’s winning ideas:

Street performers bring downtown to life

Over the next couple of months, look out for fun pop-up performances in public places in downtown Miami.

Justin Trieger and Amy San Pedro, co-founders of Buskerfest Miami, an annual street performance festival that takes place in downtown Miami, wanted to have more performing arts activities in downtown throughout the year. They came up with an idea for a pop-up street performance series called Ears to the Ground. The Knight Foundation awarded Buskerfest Miami with $10,000 for the project.

“What’s crucial to a vibrant and thriving urban environment is a walkable and engaging street experience,” Trieger said. “The festival and performing arts series are designed to foster cultural street performance.”

The two are looking for the performing artists who’ll be bringing downtown streets to life. They’re also working on designating locations for the performances.

“An important aspect of this is to give a platform to local performers so they can get experience, start making their name in a small way and help them lose their nerve,” San Pedro said. “It breaks down walls and puts performers and the audience in a closer area where they can engage with each other.”

For San Pedro, Ears to the Ground is also an opportunity to give Miami artists, whether they’re well-known or not, an opportunity to perform.

“There are all these different pockets of neighborhoods that have talented people, but the events they participate in sometimes don’t have much reach,” Trieger said.

Pinecrest Gardens jazz mentorship program

Students in the jazz magnet program at New World School of the Arts will soon participate in jam sessions with jazz masters in Pinecrest Gardens.

The Gen-Next Jam sessions are part of the Arts in the Gardens festival. Seven jazz musicians and groups perform in the festival once monthly from October 2015 to April 2016 in Pinecrest Gardens’ Banyan Bowl. Three or four of the performers will stay on to play music mentor the students for a day. At the end of their jam session, the students will put on a free performance in the Banyan Bowl.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Alana Perez, director of Pinecrest Gardens. “This opportunity will help an incredible group of talented young people and maybe make a profound difference in their lives.”

Perez started playing the violin at a young age. Her college major was music and she was chosen to have a master’s class with David Oistrakh, a renowned classical violinist from the Ukraine, in the late 1960s. She and Oistrakh worked for hours on the first 10 bars of one of Mozart’s violin concertos.

“That changed the way I thought about music and the way I played music. It completely changed my life,” she said. “I’m hoping for all of those students to come out of an experience with a jazz master feeling like they’ve had a breakthrough, like this is solidifying their feeling that this is what they want to do in life.”

Perez and James Gasior, interim dean of music and professor of jazz studies at New World, are structuring the curriculum for the jam sessions. Gasior is recruiting 12-15 dedicated students for the program

The Knight Foundation awarded the village of Pinecrest and Pinecrest Gardens $75,000 for the project.

Haitian Rara music youth program

The third Friday of every month, Little Haiti residents pack the courtyard of the Little Haiti Cultural Center and surrounding streets for a night of music, dance, culture and good food. Bands playing Haitian rara, a form of festival music used in street processions, walk through the neighborhood with hundreds of people behind them.

The event, called Big Night in Little Haiti, was the inspiration behind Sandy Dorsainvil’s Knight Arts Challenge idea.

Dorsainvil, managing director of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, recalled how much children love following the rara musicians and asking to play with their instruments.

“The rara procession is an adult event. It starts at 10 at night,” she said. “When we saw how much the children enjoyed it, we wanted to do something so they could enjoy the music, enjoy the atmosphere and learn the instruments in an environment that’s specifically for them.”

The objective of the program is to preserve Haitian rara music by creating a youth program for kids and teens to learn to play and make traditional instruments. The program begins Feb. 3. Classes will take place twice a week for 16 weeks. Six teachers from local rara bands will teach the music classes.

The Little Haiti Cultural Center was awarded $50,000 for the project. The cultural center has instruments for up to 60 children.

“Music programs are so expensive to have, especially with traditional music instruments,” Dorsainvil said. “Knowing our first music program features traditional instruments--we couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Mariachi Academy

The Mexican-American Council’s idea for a mariachi academy featuring school-age children and teens floated around for more than 20 years. It’s finally coming true.

The council, a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to helping child migrant farm workers, will open mariachi schools in three of the largest labor camps in Homestead beginning in March.

Maria Garza, president and founder of the Mexican-American Council, grew up as a migrant worker. At 14, she dropped out of school to work with her parents on a farm in Homestead. She and her family lived in a horse stable for a while.

“We saw poverty and discrimination. We lived in ungodly places,” Garza said. “I wanted to work on improving my own community — the child migrant farmer community.”

For more than 30 years, Garza and the council have dedicated themselves to helping young migrant workers in Homestead stay in school and encourage them to go to college.

“I knew education and opportunity were the only way out,” she said. “Someone has to believe in you and help you open doors.”

The Knight Foundation awarded the council $60,000 to launch the mariachi academy.

“They made us believe that our crazy idea had merit,” Garza said.

The program is intended to preserve Mexican music and culture through education. The classes will culminate in performances at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.

“I want to reach kids who think they don’t have talent, who have never touched an instrument, and give them the opportunity to learn music,” she said. “We want them to believe in themselves, to learn about their heritage and be proud of it.”

Stories of Modern-Day Marines

Miami Dade College’s MDC Live Arts wants local veterans to have a safe place to share their war and coming home stories.

The Live Arts Veterans’ Lab brings local veterans together for creative writing and performance workshops at the Miami Dade College Kendall Campus. The workshops will culminate in a show at O Miami in April. The project also features a photo exhibit at the The Betsy Hotel in South Beach.

Anthony Torres, an army veteran, student and mental health specialist, is helping lead the project. He is recruiting for the program in universities and local veterans groups. Torres feels his six years of experience as a mental-health technician at the Miami Veterans Affairs office will help him better connect with the veterans participating in the program.

“I’m going to be there throughout the whole process,” Torres said. “We have a few vets enrolled, and we’re all getting to know each other. At times we’re going to be sharing very personal, sometimes uncomfortable things we’ve experienced.”

The idea for this program was inspired by Basetrack Live, a touring theatrical documentary about the impact of war on veterans and their families. The documentary was produced by En Garde Arts, a New-York based nonprofit theatre company.

“For many Americans, the life of the military is invisible to us,” Kathryn Garcia, executive director of MDC Live Arts, said. “These people are going off and fighting for our country, and they’re experiencing powerful moments in their lives. I thought it was important to learn their stories.”

The Knight Foundation awarded Miami Dade College $50,000 for the project.

Factbox headline here

Have questions? Want to brainstorm your idea with others? Need help with the application process?

The Knight Foundation will host a series of community question and answer sessions in early February. The schedule is as follows:

▪ 7 p.m., Feb 2: ArtSouth, South Miami Community Center, 5800 SW 66 St., South Miami

▪ 7 p.m., Feb. 3: The Projects at FATVillage, 523 NW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale

▪ 7 p.m., Feb. 4: Cannonball, 1035 N. Miami Ave., No. 300, Downtown Miami

▪ 7 p.m., Feb. 5: African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 6161 NW 22nd Ave., Miami

▪ 11 a.m., Feb. 6: Custom House Museum, 281 Front St., Key West, park at the Westin

The Knight Foundation will also host a kickoff party at Gramps in Wynwood on Tuesday.