Perhaps the happiest event of Miami Arts Week for South Floridians is the announcement of the winners of the Knight Arts Challenge, the annual program funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that has done so much to promote and shape culture in South Florida over the past nine years.
This year, the Foundation awarded $2.78 million to 44 projects, announcing them Monday evening in an event at the New World Center on Miami Beach. From projects that connect to Cuba to a gallery in the Everglades, from transforming buildings with public art to a writing program in Opa-locka, the winners are a spectacularly varied group that reflects Miami’s unique community.
“The make-up of our communities is reflected in the grants,” said Victoria Rogers, the Knight Foundation’s vice-president for arts. “It’s a celebration of the incredible diversity of this really rich and special place. Through the arts, we are connected to place and our collective and individual stories are told. Perhaps the most important, empathy can result.”
See a complete list of Knight Arts Challenge winners at Knightarts.org.
There are some themes in this year’s group. One of them is connecting the Cuba and Cuban-American artists from both sides of the Florida Straits, including an experimental theater project by Alexey Taran, creative writing fellowships with the CINTAS Foundation, and longtime Miami Afro-Cuban dance group IFE-ILE’s festival of Afro-Cuban culture. Celebrating another Caribbean connection, Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste won for a book and exhibit exploring connections between Cuban and Haitian cultures.
Dance is another thread. Winning projects include the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs and the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center’s proposal to engage the community in a visit from the Dance Theater of Harlem; choreographer Marissa Alma Nick’s efforts to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia through dance; and pioneering disabled dance troupe Karen Peterson Dancers’ festival integrating dancers with and without disabilities. Angel Fraser-Logan, owner of longtime dance school Empire Dance Studios, will bring Miami native and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater star Jamar Roberts (whom Logan discovered at Coral Reef High School) to teach and choreograph for South Dade students.
Rogers says any common themes emerge naturally from the applications.
“We select from what is submitted,” Rogers said. “The whole point is for the art to be authentic to place... We look for the best ideas for the arts that are reflective of our city.”
Other proposals are striking for their inventiveness or the unique way they reflect the city. Amir Baradaran received one of the largest grants, $100,000 for a large-scale participatory project that will incorporate artificial intelligence and augmented reality. The largest award, for $300,000, went to Bas Fisher Invitational, a gallery without a physical home that will experiment with new ways to present art in roving locations.
The ArtCenter/South Florida will embed artists in city government to help develop policy, while the Juggerknot Theatre Company will present immersive Miami-centric theater works in motel rooms. Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) will create an interdisciplinary gallery at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Chad Bernstein’s Guitars over Guns, which uses music to mentor middle school students in violence-plagued neighborhoods, was awarded for “Music Is My Weapon,” collaborating with police to turn melted-down bullet casings and guns into musical instruments.
Tarell Alvin McCraney, a MacArthur Genius Award-winning playwright and director — and Miami native who often works in his home town — was one of two winners also named a Knight Arts Champion for his contribution to South Florida culture. (The other is filmmaker Ali Codina.) McCraney was awarded $50,000 to create the 305/One Festival for Miami storytellers and performers.
The winners’ diversity seems particularly striking at a time when post-election politics appears to have intensified divisions over race and culture.
Rogers says the program does not aim to be political, only welcoming.
“We are committed to authenticity and inclusion and that there are multiple voices at the table,” she said. “The way we have set out to make art political in our city, is you try to remove barriers and make it reflective and open.”