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Knight Arts Challenge 2016 Finalists Show Miami's Expanding, Inclusive Art Scene

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The Knight Foundation today released its list of finalists for the annual Knight Arts Challenge, which offers grants to cultural projects dreamed up by Miami community members. Now in its ninth year, the challenge has recognized 68 ideas, ranging from a Native American film festival to an audio engineering training program for young women and girls. The 2016 finalists make up one of the most diverse Knight Arts Challenge longlists yet. And that's no accident, says Victoria Rogers, vice president for arts at the Knight Foundation.

"Now you see Knight moving out and funding projects in really diverse communities," Rogers says. "As demographic patterns and immigration patterns have changed in our city, we have artists coming from other places. You're really beginning to see their artistic viewpoints coming to the table in the Knight Arts Challenge."

Launched in 2008, the Knight Arts Challenge grants millions of dollars to winning ideas, which must follow three rules to be considered: The idea must be about the arts, it must take place in or benefit South Florida, and winners must match Knight's contribution to their project. Past Knight Arts Challenge winners have included O Cinema, the Borscht Film Festival, Bookleggers mobile library, and Miami Girls Rock Camp.

Projects designed to reach minority or underserved groups make up nearly half of the finalist list this year. Within the 68 ideas, you'll find a film production program for teen girls, run by Nerissa Street; a book, written by Carl Juste, examining the similarities between Cuban and Haitian cultures; a spoken-word performance by Combat Hippies based on the experiences of Middle East refugees and veterans; and the Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator, which aims to commission 20 artists to spend time and create art in South Florida's Caribbean communities. 

Rogers says the concentration on racial, gender, sexual, and other minorities comes from the Miami community, not from Knight. "It is not a focus on a specific gender. It's not a focus on a specific community. It is a focus on being sure that the pool from which we can choose [Knight Arts Challenge winners] is truly reflective of our communities," she says. "The real focus is always on artistic quality, but also on people who are telling a very different story [about Miami]."

A project doesn't have to specifically target underserved communities to meet that criteria. Take Art Center/South Florida's proposal to install artists in city planning departments, Rogers says. "We know that artists think in different ways. Artists have to solve complex problems. They're creative and they're innovative, and they often can address things in a way that someone else would think of."

This year's Knight Arts Challenge finalists are in the running for a share of $2.5 million in grants. Winners will be announced November 29. Visit knightarts.org for a full list of the finalists.

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