The Biscayne Times

Mar 21st
All It Takes Is 150 Words PDF Print E-mail
Written by Adam Ganuza, Special to the BT   
April 2017

The Knight Arts Challenge mines Miami’s creativity

TPix_MyView_4-17he year 2008 was a big one for me, and Miami. I returned home after six years abroad in the United States (Miami felt like a different country to me in those days), and the economic recession was in full swing. The rapid growth that had characterized Miami in the decade running up to 2008 proved too much too soon, and the city buckled under the pressures of economic uncertainty.

It was also during this tumultuous time that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation created the Knight Arts Challenge, a program that would fundamentally change our city’s cultural life.

On the surface, launching an ideas challenge around the arts may not seem like the most logical response to a city headed into one of the worst recessions in generations. It was, however, a long-term investment in building a stronger, more vibrant, and resilient Miami.

Knight Foundation’s mission is to foster more informed and engaged communities, and the arts are an ideal way to do that. The arts not only enrich our lives, they connect people to each other and to the places where we live. The arts help frame our identities and how we present those identities to the world. The arts help introduce us to ourselves. Knight Foundation, under the leadership of president Alberto Ibargüen, capitalized on this and seeded hundreds of new ideas to bring the community together through the arts.

Since 2008, the Arts Challenge has invested nearly $30 million in 340 projects. That portfolio has benefited neighborhoods throughout our community, helping to make art ubiquitous in Miami -- something seen, heard, and felt wherever people go. Some have been large-scale public arts projects, others small community arts education programs. Regardless of their size, every project has reflected the artistic excellence for which Miami is now known.

Our most venerated cultural institutions have benefited from the challenge, including the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami City Ballet, Frost Art Museum, HistoryMiami, the Olympia Theater, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and many more. Some of our most recognizable cultural organizations and spaces were initiated with funds from the challenge, including the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood and O Cinema, now in three locations. The Borscht Film Festival, which incubated the hugely successful film Moonlight, also grew with Knight Arts Challenge funds.

Our latest group of 2016 challenge winners is particularly strong. One standout is the “Miami Motel Stories” by Juggerknot Theatre. This company has partnered with real estate developers along the MiMo corridor to create an interactive theatrical experience in which the audience moves through one of the old motels, experiencing a drama whose scenes play out in different rooms.

Thousands of people’s lives have been enriched as a direct result of challenge funds. And just like the construction running up and down Biscayne Boulevard, we have no plans of slowing down any time soon.

I’ve seen the challenge from both sides of the table. After returning home, I went to work for the Rhythm Foundation, a three-time Knight Arts Challenge winner for its work presenting live music with an international focus. Its most prominent Arts Challenge project was Big Night in Little Haiti, a monthly cultural series that presented the best in Haitian and Caribbean music free to the public. More recently, the Rhythm Foundation launched Axis of Love, a concert series of meditative music from conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa.

Now I lead the challenge for Knight Foundation’s arts program, which is in its tenth year, and have the honor of helping individuals and organizations navigate the application process, which is simple by design.

We ask one simple question of the community: What is your best idea for the arts in South Florida?

And there are only three rules to apply: (1) the project must be about the arts; (2) the project must take place in or benefit South Florida; and (3) you must find matching funds for your award. That’s it.

Anyone is eligible to apply, and all are encouraged. That includes nonprofits, of course, but individuals, artist collectives, and for-profit companies as well. The first-round application is simply a 150-word description of the project. That’s it.

The Knight Arts Challenge aims to cast as wide a net as possible because, ultimately, the greatest ideas do not exclusively belong to established artists and arts organizations, though they have many great ones. We believe the best ideas can come from anyone, from anywhere.

The challenge seeks to build stronger communities by mining the community’s greatest resource: the talent, creativity, and passion of the people in it. I hope you will participate by submitting your idea by April 28 at


Adam Ganuza is an Arts Program Officer at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For more information on the Knight Arts Challenge, including how to apply, visit


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