29 Knight Arts Challenge winners flipping Detroit’s script

Detroit is a city characterized by transformation, but also reclamation. Through sheer creativity and grit, Detroiters flip the script on the city’s narrative and its physical spaces, building on the region’s cultural legacy while moving people to see Detroit with a fresh lens. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ideas proposed by the  29 winners of this year’s Knight Arts Challenge.

Among them are projects that create new public assets, like sculptures and murals, and that reimagine derelict ones, like blighted billboards. There are projects that invite Detroiters to reclaim their city’s narrative using their stories and then equip them with the resources and training to do so. There are projects that bend and blend genres to engage audiences with art in new ways.

Knight received about 900 submissions to the Arts Challenge earlier this year and, from those, selected 29 that capture the energy of the city, its people and the connections between them.  We’re proud to present these winning ideas, of, by and for Detroit:

Heritage Works Black Body. Photo by Mark Harris.


Award: $66,000

To create an artist-directed advertising agency that markets critical thinking and curiosity instead of consumerism

Art on the Block – Arte en la Cuadra

Recipient: Amelia Duran

Award: $70,000

To highlight Southwest Detroit’s historical connection to public art with a 10-day mural blitz and arts festival that is reflective of the neighborhood’s cultural identity and heritage

Soapbox Studios: Marginalized voices from the Arab and Arab American Community (Arab Film Festival)

Recipient: Arab American National Museum

Award: $50,000

To showcase films that present the depth of Arab and Arab American culture by expanding the museum’s annual film festival

The Solid Foundation Stilt Dancing Project

Recipient: Ayinde Fondren

Award: $10,000

To foster the African art of stilt dancing through a pilot summer program where children will learn the form’s history, choreography and how to make their own costumes

“The AfroFutures!” Children’s Music Project

Recipient: Bryce Detroit

Award: $30,000

To work with Detroit’s music luminaries to create an Afrofuturist children’s music album that promotes positive cultural identity and ancestral values

Salt City – We the Ones

Recipient: jessica Care moore and Aku Kadogo/Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Award: $64,000

To create a “blue-collar ballet for a blue-collar city,” a techno-inspired dance and theater production, written by jessica Care moore and directed by Aku Kadogo, about a girl named Salt who has time traveled to Detroit in 2071 and can’t find her people

Cine Mexico Now

Recipient: Cinema Lamont

Award: $25,000

To bring together cinephiles and the city’s Mexican community with a film festival of award-winning contemporary Mexican cinema


Recipient: Wayne Ramocan, Allandra Bulger and Dominque Campbell / D.Cipher

Award: $30,000

To help artists share the knowledge that can grow their careers and help them participate in Detroit’s growing economy through this community of independent music artists

DSO Mobile Maxcast Series

Recipient: Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Award: $36,000

To give Detroiters the ability to enjoy a world-renowned concert right in their neighborhood with the Mobile Maxcast, a billboard truck that broadcasts “Live from Orchestra Hall” in parks and at community centers

Baghdad in Detroit

Recipient: Dunya Mikhail

Award: $12,000

To show Detroit through the eyes of Iraqi-American poets by creating a video that joins together their poems about Detroit and the many communities within the city

Facing Change: Documenting Detroit

Recipient: Facing Change: Documenting America

Award: $150,000

To create a photo essay of the city through a community photojournalism project that pairs emerging photographers with professionals who mentor them in producing a story on Detroit communities

American Riad

Recipient: Ghana ThinkTank and Central Detroit Christian CDC

Award: $135,000

To create a Moroccan-style riad, or community courtyard, in Detroit’s North End, formed by a series of soaring stainless steel arches cut with intricate Islamic patterns

Muse at the Museum

Recipient: Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival

Award: $15,000

To celebrate Detroit artists past and present through a multidisciplinary performance involving a music commission by Detroit-based composer William Banfield inspired by a seminal painting in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s collection by John Thomas Biggers

Black Body

Recipient: Heritage Works

Award: $200,000

To explore historical, mythological and other representations of the body by bringing together choreographers and local artists to co-create new works with the community


Recipient: Sherina Sharpe and Chace Morris/House Aquemini

Award: $100,000

To explore stories of personal transformation after tragedy with Tetra, a four-show festival of theater, music, poetry and technology created by Sherina Sharpe and Chace Morris


Recipient: Kisma Jordan

Award: $50,000

To create a world-class concert experience that seamlessly fuses operatic vocals with various music styles in order to expand the scope of and audience for classical voice performances

Live Coal Arts Mobile

Recipient: Yvette Rock/Live Coal Gallery

Award: $45,000

To bring art into neighborhoods, particularly Brightmoor and North End/Piety Hill, through a transformed 18-foot trailer that doubles as a mobile gallery and a space for art-making workshops

Mariachi Femenil Detroit

Recipient: Mariachi Femenil Detroit

Award: $15,000

To flip the script on the male-dominated mariachi genre by creating a female mariachi ensemble for Detroit

Take Me Out to the Opera

Recipient: Michigan Opera Theatre

Award: $45,000

To explore the intersection of sports and art with a production of “The Summer King,” an opera based on the life of Negro League baseball star Josh Gibson, accompanied by community programming centered on the stories of groundbreaking African-American artists and athletes who paved the way for integration in their fields

BackStage Technical Theatre Training Program

Recipient: Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit

Award: $125,000

To train more minorities for careers in theater by teaching youth to work backstage in carpentry, sound engineering and lighting design

Spreading the Elements Everywhere in Detroit (S.E.E.D.)

Recipient: Motor City Street Dance Academy

Award: $35,000

To engage youth in the arts through a dance studio and mentorship program focused on hip-hop and breakdancing

Snotty Kids Invade the Gay Bar: Detroit Punk History – Reissued/Unreleased Music and More

Recipient: Rob St. Mary

Award: $15,000

To document the city’s punk scene – chiefly 1977-83 – and its place in music history with an interactive website featuring interviews, photos and videos in addition to special vinyl record reissues and unreleased compilations

Pressing On: Making Visible an Unseen Detroit

Recipient: Signal-Return

Award: $25,000

To elevate the work of nonprofits by pairing 12 organizations with Detroit artists who will turn the organizations’ uplifting stories into art through custom letterpress posters

When It All Changed, A Virtual Reality High School Tour

Recipient: Sultan Sharrief/Street Cred Detroit Youth Crew

Award: $42,000

To spark conversations about empathy and race by touring an interactive performance where students use virtual reality to put themselves in the shoes of a 16-year-old Detroit student who witnesses violence in her community


Recipient: Tiff Massey

Award: $200,000

To provide a place for reflection and gathering on the grounds of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History with a site-specific sculpture called SPRING, named for the season in which Detroit comes alive

Art and Architecture: Changing Our Cities Through Our Youth

Recipient: Tiffany Brown/Urban Arts Collective

Award: $50,000

To increase diversity in architecture by having a team of architectural designers raised in the city’s toughest neighborhoods return to those areas to teach kids design skills that will encourage them to change their community

Fredy Perlman and the Detroit Printing Co-op

Recipient: Danielle Aubert/Wayne State University

Award: $12,000

To explore the connection between politics and printing by publishing a book on the work of Fredy Perlman and friends at the Detroit Print Co-op, which produced noteworthy and beautifully-designed leftist publications in the city between 1970 and 1980

Framed by WDET – Collection Showcase

Recipient: WDET

Award: $23,000

To share and preserve the stories of Detroit’s diverse communities – from Hamtramck’s Bangladeshi dress shop owners to long-time Detroiters sustaining the city’s rich blues legacy – by creating an exhibit and printed book that highlight the best of the audiovisual installations from arts challenge-funded project “Framed by WDET”

The Porch on TAP

Recipient: Young Nation

Award: $135,000

To transform the organization’s “front porch” into space for cultural exchange by inviting national and international artists for short-term residencies in which they connect with the community, perform, display work or conduct workshops on the porch of Young Nation’s new plaza adjacent to The Alley Project in southwest Detroit