Knight Arts Challenge Returns to Miami With a Pledge of Political Neutrality

Guitars Over Guns performs at the 2016 Knight Arts Challenge celebration.
Guitars Over Guns performs at the 2016 Knight Arts Challenge celebration. Photo by Jason Koerner
Art can stir emotions, comment on the turmoil in the world, and spur action in our communities. Miami arts patron the Knight Foundation has believed in the power of creative expression since its founding by newspaper moguls the Knight brothers in the 1900s. The foundation's annual open call, the Knight Arts Challenge, is now celebrating its tenth anniversary.

“We do the challenge because we’re seeking to make art general in cities where we fund. Art not only inspires, but it also connects us to each other and the cities in which we live,” says Victoria Rogers, vice president of arts at the Knight Foundation.

The competition has three parameters for applying: The proposed project must pertain to the arts, it must take place in or benefit the South Florida community, and the grant recipients must find other funds to match the Knight Foundation’s grant.

“Good ideas can come from anywhere... Anyone can apply. The projects are selected based on the highest artistic quality. They are authentic to the city and include a range of voices,” Rogers says.

The Knight Foundation’s presence in Miami is ubiquitous. Name a notable artistic endeavor in the Magic City, and it has probably received a financial boost from the foundation. Recipients include the free Wallcast concerts performed by the New World Symphony in SoundScape Park; a project with Guitars Over Guns in which police bullet casings and guns are melted and recast into musical instruments to promote peace and protest violence; and this year's View-Through, a digital intervention in which poetry written by inmates of Miami-Dade County correctional institutions is inserted into auto-completes in search engines to resist discrimination against prisoners.

The competition is not thematic. “There is no theme outside of the desire to ensure that art reflects all voices within the community,” Rogers says. This year is particularly rife with politically charged and artist-as-activist art, a response to the current government’s actions affecting all facets of society, especially the arts. However, Rogers says Knight’s priority is about finding and funding the highest-quality and most cutting-edge art. “We’re not prescriptive in our funding. We look for the best ideas... Knight’s philosophy is always about authenticity and inclusion; it’s never about politics,” she says.
click to enlarge The 2016 Knight Arts Challenge winners. - PHOTO BY PATRICK FARRELL FOR KNIGHT FOUNDATION
The 2016 Knight Arts Challenge winners.
Photo by Patrick Farrell for Knight Foundation
The Knight Foundation is a privately funded organization that would be fiscally unaffected by the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts proposed by the Trump administration. Nevertheless, cuts to arts funding for other organizations and individuals could extinguish many innovative ideas. “I cannot imagine a world without the arts,” Rogers says. “They are absolutely critical to humanity because they tell our stories and represent our thoughts. Can you imagine not having Wynwood, New World Symphony, or O Cinema? These are artistic endeavors we are so lucky to have in our community.”

Though arts funding may be threatened on the national and state levels, the Knight Foundation remains steadfast in its pursuit to fund art from South Florida and other communities. Rogers encourages artists and arts organizations to let their creativity soar, come up with stellar ideas, and apply for the competition this year. Applications are open March 29 through April 28 and require a 150-word proposal submitted on the Knight Foundation's website.

“The arts tell our stories, both individual and collective," Rogers says. "They are important to creating community, empathy, and understanding. They challenge our biases. They open our eyes.”

Knight Arts Challenge Community Conversations — pre-application meetings offering the chance to ask the Knight Foundation staff questions — run March 20 through 23 at locations around Miami-Dade. Visit
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth