In the U.S., securing support for the arts has always been an arduous battle. Cultural funding tends to be the first budget item to be cut whenever government officials decide to rein in spending.
That's where organizations like the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation come in. Since 1950, the Miami-based nonprofit has worked to promote and invest in 26 urban areas across the United States, including those where the founding brothers of the Knight-Ridder group, onetime publishers of the Miami Herald, published newspapers.
Earlier this month, the foundation, which focuses on journalism, intelligent technological advancements, and arts programming, announced $2.2 million in funding for Miami-based cultural organizations, along with Knight New Work and Arts Champions grants of $10,000 apiece.
Emerging out of the present moment, Knight New Work 2020 called for applicants to submit works and projects that reinvented the performing arts for the current pandemic reality. The initiative seeks to envision a world where the performing arts continue to exist in innovative ways without a traditional audience — from drive-ins to digital productions accessible via mobile devices.
New Work's 18 first-round winners have been tasked with using their $10,000 grant to create a spectrum of programs and projects adapted to be accessed even after the pandemic is over. Winners have chosen a range of projects, from female-driven music of the Black Caribbean diaspora living in Miami to an immersion in modern technology's capabilities for interactive live performance.
"Time and time again throughout the pandemic, we have seen how artists and arts institutions use technology to build a bridge between their works and their audience," notes Chris Barr, the Knight Foundation’s director of arts and technology innovation.
With the aim of investing a total of $500,000 into New Work this year, the Knight Foundation will select another group of winners in March.
The foundation also announced its Arts Champions: 19 cultural leaders who've demonstrated an impact and drive to elevating the community. The recipients, who include Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, Pioneer Winter, Beth Dunlop, Dennis Scholl, and Brandi Reddick, are tasked with awarding a $10,000 grant apiece to a local artist or art organization of their choice. Grants will go to Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator, which nurtures the diversity of talent stemming from the Caribbean; O, Miami, the 305-born poetry festival that aims to expose every single resident of Miami-Dade County to a poem each National Poetry Month (April); and the Underline, an art-in-public-places project that will convert land located below the Metrorail system into a functioning park.
The Knight Foundation also announced a $2.2 million investment into nine Miami-based organizations.
“Arts organizations have not only had to pivot in how they produce and promote their work, but they’ve also incorporated new strategies to increase their reach during a time of physical distancing and beyond," says Priya Sircar, the Knight Foundation’s arts program director. "Our investments recognize the incredible work these organizations do and accelerate their ability to expand programming, incorporate digital strategies, and in some cases, hire new personnel to help increase audience engagement.”
The nine organizations — Third Horizon, Miami City Ballet, Bookleggers Library, Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Prizm Projects, Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Miami Dade College Foundation, the Coral Gables Community Foundation, and Nite Owl Theater — will utilize the funding to expand their digital reach and engage with audiences in new ways.
After an exceptionally bleak year all around, it's heartening to see a glimmer of light on the post-pandemic horizon for Miami’s cultural scene.
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