Arts and Culture Inspire and Serve as Economic Drivers

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Communities aren’t just concrete and steel, asphalt and glass. They can just as easily be a state of mind: an aria, a pas de deux, an epiphany in a gallery. For a foundation whose mission is to build community, the arts provide a most effective glue. 

Art makes tangible things that are intangible. It explains things difficult to explain. Experience tells us topflight cultural facilities and arts organizations can help communities see themselves as part of something bigger. New arts and cultural institutions in several of Knight Foundation’s 26 communities provide not only inspiration for the soul, but are proving to be economic catalysts in community revitalization.

Sitting squarely in the middle of downtown Miami’s dramatic construction boom are the twin halls of the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, including the 2,200-seat John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. Since its opening in October 2006, the center has brought to Miami world-class performers: the Cleveland Orchestra in its initial Miami residency, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Itzhak Perlman, Chita Rivera and Broadway’s Wicked.

The center intends to serve and inspire Miami’s diverse population. “Three-quarters of us who live here were born someplace else,” says Knight President Alberto Ibargüen. “Half of us were born in another country. So you look for ways as a foundation whose purpose is to build community, to bring people together. We decided to invest in the arts, where people of diverse backgrounds can share experience, and that shared experience is the beginning of community.”

The development of Miami’s Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and its Knight Concert Hall, according to The Miami Herald, has spurred a massive reinvestment in the city’s downtown. At least 22 major construction projects, including 13,000 new residential units, are under way.

In Akron, the shimmering new John S. and James L. Knight Building rises next to the 1899 brick Akron Art Museum. The addition, designed by internationally renowned Viennese architects Coop Himmelb(l)au, opens in July. “It is an extraordinary, extravagant and innovative piece that has already gained world attention,” says museum director Mitchell Kahan. “And it is a beacon, literally, in the city because it lights up at night.”

The addition’s galleries triple the amount of space for art, adding an important new destination to Akron’s downtown revival. The expansion has generated new collaborations with artistic and social service agencies, making the museum a community anchor. Programming seven days a week will encourage visitors to stay longer.

“The community in general will benefit, the image of the city will benefit, and Northeast Ohio will benefit,” says Kahan. “There’s one other area that will benefit, and that’s the future of architecture, because this is a very important design that will, for years to come, draw architectural accolades from around the world.”

Charlotte, N.C.’s, already impressive downtown is undergoing another transformation, with construction cranes on every corner. A cultural arts campus, including a new, 1,200-seat Knight Theater, is rising adjacent to a new Wachovia Bank tower. A $5 million grant supports the theater and the operating endowment for the new cultural facilities. In Columbus, Ga., local leaders are building on a culture of success and achievement by supporting a new cultural/tourist attraction at nearby Fort Benning by developing the new National Infantry Museum and Heritage Park. The Knight Chapel on the site’s World War II Street honors the Knight family’s legacy of philanthropy and military service.

Being associated with greatness, being associated with the highest level of achievement in the arts … is something that reflects well on Knight,” says Ibargüen from a vantage overlooking the Miami horizon. “And I think it is in keeping with the aspirations of this community.” For further information

Carnival Center for the Performing Arts http://www.carnivalcenter.org/  [see also, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts] Akron Art Museum: http://www.akronartmuseum.org/