The Knight Foundation’s inaugural initiative will fund groundbreaking works of music, theater and dance.
By Christie Galeano-DeMott
As the theater lights dim, there’s an ephemeral moment where everyone – from the audience to the performers – takes a deep breath in and prepares to enter an enchanting world. The curtain rises, and even if it’s just for a few hours, we’re all experiencing a story together. That’s the power of the performing arts.
To celebrate and spotlight Miami artists who create and bring those theatrical stories to life, The Knight Foundation, which has invested $165 million into the arts and culture of Miami since 2005, launched Knight New Work Miami late last year. With a $500,000 commitment, the foundation has funded five original works of performance art that capture the city’s culture, exuberance and originality. The five artists will tell their own whimsical stories of Miami. As the audience, we will have the opportunity to see this magical city from their point of view when the performances debut during the 2020-2021 Knight Foundation season of the arts. “The Knight Foundation is genre agnostic,” said Victoria Rogers, the foundation’s vice president of arts. “But for this initiative we wanted to focus on the performing arts and the artists who are clever, thoughtful and brilliant and are making the city what it is today. The performing arts give people the opportunity to encounter art in different ways.”
One of those artists is playwright William Hector, who is bringing one of Miami’s greatest fears to life in G7: 2070. Depicting a world where global warming and sea level rising have taken the city underwater, Hector addresses real, serious issues of flooding, immigration, refugee displacement and political upheaval in an immersive fantasyland. The audience will become part of the delegation that will decide the world’s fate by interacting with the world’s seven leading powers, which include Uruguay, China, U.S.A, Russia, Ethiopia, The European Papal Federation and Disney.
Yes, the mouse has created an empire where the Magic Kingdom rules supreme over several American states along with countries throughout the world. “The Knight Foundation is the glue that holds the art scene in Miami together. It took a chance on me,” said the youngest grant recipient. Rogers agrees. “The Knight Foundation has always been a risk taker, and William is a calculated risk. We want to give artists an opportunity to make a statement about our city and about issues that are really important in an inventive way.”
The national foundation, which funds programs where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers, focuses on art because of its ability to connect the community.
“Art is essential to the creation of a vibrant city. It puts a frame around life,” said Rogers. The goal of the New Work initiative is to position Miami as not only a city where art is consumed but where it’s born and created. The works of art are a reflection of the rich diversity the city. But it’s not just enough to celebrate art. The Knight Foundation recently conducted the Evolving Arts Ecosystems: A Study of Miami to see how Miami’s art scene has progressed over the last decade. While it showed that the arts have been a key factor in the city’s growth and as the arts have flourished, they have allowed the city to keep its emerging artists and attract artists from other cities, it also highlighted some shortcomings and possible solutions. For example, it found that nearly 50% of the organizations had less than 2.5 months of unrestricted cash readily available.“It’s like having a savings account in our own lives,” Rogers explains. “It gives us an adaptive capability in a downturn. An organization has to have a good base – to be financially viable and stable so that it can then start to innovate and connect with its audience.”
An example of a celebrated artist returning to Miami is Lileana Blain-Cruz, the New Work recipient to receive the most grant money for her proposed project. The Obie award-wining director and New York City resident will adapt Miami novelist Edwidge Danticat’s newest book Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work into a play in partnership with Miami New Drama. Growing up in Miami with a Haitian mother, this opportunity to bring the Haitian immigrant experience to the stage is a dream come true for Blain-Cruz. In her first experience with adapting a book into the theater, she’s ecstatic to have the opportunity to work with Danticat, one of her heroes. “The Knight Foundation has allowed for this conversation and cross pollination to happen,” Blain-Cruz said. “It’s a privilege to return to Miami to make this new piece.”
The New Work initiative application process will alternate years with the Knight Arts Challenge (KAC). This year, from June 24-July 24, the KAC will accept applications from artists (emerging and established), nonprofits and for-profit business that have an idea for a brilliant arts project that’s authentic to Miami. Since 2008 the foundation has received 12,000 applications and has funded 384. For that competitive reason, Rogers urges applicants to write in a compelling way that reflects their idea. And if English isn’t your first language, write it in your native tongue. The foundation will gladly translate it.
For those applying, whether for New Work or KAC, Hector also suggests letting your personality shine brightly in the description of your project’s vision while Blain- Cruz’s advice is to find your truth and to create a project that’s urgent and real to you.
For more information:
SIDE BAR (if you want to list all the winners of the initiative)
2018 KNIGHT NEW WORK WINNERS:
Danzas del Silencio – $50,000
| Artist: Alvaro Bermudez, guitarist and composer
| Presenter: Seraphic Fire, in partnership with New World Center
A choral and guitar collaboration between Grammy-nominated ensemble Seraphic Fire and guitarist
Alvaro Bermudez that will blend Colombian dance rhythms with Bach’s orchestral structure.
DECO “Danzon of Eclectic Cultural Origin” – $80,000
| Artist: Kevin Jenkins, choreographer
| Presenter: Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami
A nontraditional ballet inspired by Miami’s unique identity and the city’s Latin energy, blending the flavors of salsa, tango, flamenco and contemporary ballet technique.
F/Punk Junkies – $115,000
| Artist: Teo Castellanos, actor, writer and director
| Presenter: Miami Light Project
A dance theater experience that will disrupt traditional ways of both creating and experiencing art, incorporating Afropunk aesthetics, improvisation and both live and recorded music.
G7: 2070: An Immersive Theatrical Summit – $75,000
| Artist: William Hector, playwright
An immersive theatrical summit set in a flooded Miami 50 years from now that invites participants to join the delegations of countries old and new as they take part in negotiations to determine the fate of the world.
The Edwidge Danticat Project: Create Dangerously – $150,000
| Artist: Lileana Blain-Cruz, theater director, in partnership with Miami New Drama
A theatrical dramatization of novelist and Little Haiti resident Edwidge Danticat’s “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” that amplifies the Haitian-immigrant perspective. The production will bring Danticat’s stories onto the stage, with music, projections and movement.
Promotion of the Knight New Work Miami 2020-21 Season – $30,000
Support for promotion and marketing of these exciting works when they premiere.
Winner: Lileana Blain-Cruz
Winner: William Hector