Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

How Knight Arts helps build community by binding people to place

Sept. 28, 2012, 12:34 p.m., Posted by Dennis Scholl

Knight Foundation believes the arts help build community by binding people to place and to each other. Done with excellence, the arts inspire and connect people.

Our grantmaking strategy in the arts has four initiatives:

  • Creative Placemaking
  • Making Art General
  • Institutional Reform
  • Spurring Innovation

The strategy is carried across Knight’s eight resident communities but is implemented in varying landscapes. Here’s a snapshot of the arts sector in each:

  • Akron: Akron has a history of developing established arts institutions however, the organizations have struggled financially. The City of Akron has played a significant role in supporting culture, specifically in developing summer programming as well as increasing programs in neighborhoods such as downtown. Recently, the city has faced financial challenges which put many of its arts programs at risk of budgetary cuts. Despite the financial challenges, Akron hosts a significant dance program at the University of Akron as well as dance programming through the city. Akron is also home to an excellent modern art collection, at the Akron Art Museum
  • Detroit: Detroit’s arts institutions are beginning to show signs of bloom after a long decline. Despite the economic challenges, or perhaps because of opportunities derived from those challenges, individual artists and small arts groups have thrived. Detroit is also home to several longstanding arts institutions that have remained resilient and innovative through the many changes faced in the last half a century. These artists and arts institutions are building a strong network, seeking to reestablish Detroit through sustainable communities rooted in creative solutions.
  • Macon: Despite its relatively small population, Macon maintains a community of individual artists and arts organizations, many of which are brought together through the Macon Arts Alliance. As Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts said during a recent visit to Macon, “The first thing you need (for a strong arts scene) is the political structure. You also need a committed private sector and some sort of history of artistic achievement. Macon has all three. It has all the elements to be a rich, thriving arts community.” Macon’s recent government restructuring may have created an opportunity to establish a cultural department – something that Knight and program director Beverly Blake see as a strong opportunity to move the arts forward in the community.
  • Miami: Miami’s reputation as a thriving visual arts community began with the founding of the Miami Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art (North Miami), Locust Projects, the Moore Space and other small galleries in the mid 1990s. The following years saw the rise of the Design District as community hub for artists, which then expanded to Wynwood, and was paralleled with the rise of cultural institutions such as the Arsht Center and New World Symphony. The home grown cultural explosion was amplified in 2002 when Art Basel began hosting an annual fair on Miami Beach, attracting tens of thousands of attendees each year. In a short period of time, Miami has transitioned from a community that many felt lacked “culture” to one where art plays center-stage in the city’s identity.
  • Philadelphia: Philadelphia’s boasts the oldest art museum and school in the United States, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (founded 1805). With a rich history of public art and arts institutions such as the Fairmont Park Art Association (founded 1872), the Academy of Music (founded 1857) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (founded 1876), arts and artistic experiences can be felt throughout the city. Most recently, Philadelphia is experiencing a revival in its theatre community. As talented individuals seek opportunities outside of Broadway, many are settling in Philadelphia and establishing new companies. Recently, grassroots arts organizations have emerged as another way to engage Philadelphians in the arts.
  • St. Paul: St. Paul has a vibrant and diverse arts community, reflective of the community at-large. Many organizations are intentionally small and thus, were resilient to the economic downturn.  Leading arts institutions have struggled in the last five years but these institutions have leveraged the challenges as an opportunity to develop innovative partnerships that begin to share administrative burdens across multiple organizations. St. Paul culture tends to live in the shadow of its twin city neighbor, Minneapolis. This has caused St. Paul organizations to work hard to distinguish themselves. There is a spirit of true collaboration and invention in the St. Paul arts community.
  • San Jose/Silicon Valley: San Jose is home to several museums and medium sized arts organizations but due to severe funding cuts at the city level, many organizations have struggled to maintain operations. Their close proximity to San Francisco and transient nature of the Silicon Valley population has made it difficult to secure private funding, both from individuals as well as foundations. There are, however, beacons in the community. San Jose has a thriving arts and technology institution (Zero1) and longstanding traditional arts organizations including San Jose Taiko, Abhinaya Dance Company and the Mexican Heritage Corporation. These arts organizations provide innovative programming relevant to the community.

Knight’s four-pronged arts strategy, in the context of each community, guides our grantmaking by helping to focus on the organizations and projects that will most effectively achieve our goals. 

To learn more visit KnightArts.org

By Dennis Scholl, vice president/Arts at Knight Foundation

Related: "@michaelmaness on Knight's journalism and media innovation strategy," "Knight Foundation's National Program strategy" and "Knight Foundation's Communities Program Strategy."