Articles by

Neil de la Flor

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    Above: Miami Music Project. Photo by Renata Volfe. Earlier this month, Knight Arts grantee Miami Music Project celebrated its Fantastic Season Finale for 2016–a celebration honoring outstanding musicians from four of its local chapters: Liberty City, Little Havana, Little Haiti and Doral. The following week, it kicked off its Summer Music Camp–Miami’s only El Sistema-inspired program designed to transform the social and academic lives of young musicians through high-quality musical training.    “Students participate in sectional and orchestra rehearsals, undergo daily repertoire analysis, and participate in intensive social development activities,” Maritza Diaz, the organization’s communications and marketing director, said of the summer program, which runs through July 8. “The focus is to provide comprehensive music education through orchestral participation from very early stages, group lessons and peer teaching.” The summer camp is a lab and an incubator that harnesses the power of music and teamwork to help kids make substantive changes in their lives. It has the potential to be transformative and catapult some young musicians into becoming the next Nina Simone (who started off as a classical pianist) or Jay Z.
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    Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp in “Before Night Falls.” In the 1990s, the Alliance Cinema was the pulse of South Beach–a center for independent film culture and, most importantly for me, a safe space for a burgeoning queer community. It’s where I met Javier Bardem onscreen for the first time in “Jamon, Jamon” (1992), a film about an aspiring bullfighter and underwear model hired to seduce another man’s pregnant girlfriend. In 1994, I saw “Kika,” my least favorite film by my favorite filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar. I saw countless other films at the Alliance, most of them lost to memory, save for the memory of that sacred space. In that dark, single-screen, six-row theater, I felt safe watching films that revealed the multitudes of being and becoming queer, with my community sitting next to me. It would pull me out of darkness more than once. The Alliance Cinema closed in 2000. Shortly thereafter, I was reunited with Bardem in “Before Night Falls” on the big screen–this time in an uncomfortably mainstream theater. The film, based on the autobiography of Cuban poet, novelist, fierce anti-Castro activist and proud homosexual Reinaldo Arenas, explores Arenas’ turbulent and truculent life in Cuba, his exile to New York and ultimately his AIDS-related death. I watched it the same year that my best friend died of an AIDS-related illness.
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    Activist Aryah Lester leads a vigil. Aryah Lester is a force for change, breaking down the barriers to acceptance faced by transgender and gender nonconforming people. With her fierce dedication to art and advocacy, she is methodically melting away our society’s stifling and deadly obsession with conformity. Change isn’t easy, and neither is acceptance, but it’s possible and necessary. In 2015, Lester was included on Trans 100 List, “an annual list of 100 trans Americans accomplished in the fields of advocacy and art.” As the current program manager for TransArt, a two-week festival of transgender talent, vision and possibilities co-produced by Unity Coalition and The Betsy-South Beach, Lester will demonstrate just how possible it is for art to advocate for change. TransArt also demonstrates the important role local institutions like The Betsy hotel, a Knight Arts grantee, and Unity Coalition play in making Miami a more just and safe place for all the people who call this city home. TransArt represents a cultural opening-up to transgender people, including artists, writers, activists and everyday Americans who’ve worked, suffered, died and thrived on the periphery. The Betsy-South Beach and Unity Coalition have helped foster and create visibility for the TransArt Festival. How has their involvement furthered the festival’s mission? Initially, I had envisioned [TransArt] as a one-day event showcasing local artists who happen to be transgender, to highlight our narratives outside of the negativity we face daily. At a meeting a couple of years ago, both Deborah Briggs of The Betsy-South Beach, and Herb Sosa of Unity Coalition, realized the idea aligned with their own visions. The Betsy hotel has a thriving philanthropic arm in the arts, and Unity Coalition focuses on the cultural arts of the LGBT communities. They pooled their resources, connections and networks to build events highlighting transgender talent from around the nation, as well as locally, to produce our TransArt series.
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    Above: “Havana Habibi.” Photo courtesy of Tiffany Madera. “Havana Habibi,” which opens Thursday, June 9 at O Cinema Wynwood, is a documentary film about the fledgling feminist movement sparked by Tiffany Madera. It is also the centerpiece of a weeklong series of live performances, workshops and dialogues that immerses participants in Madera’s process as an artist.
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    Above: Miami's Rise Up Gallery, a recent Knight Arts Challenge winner. Next fall, when Knight Foundation announces the 2016 winners of the Knight Arts Challenge, each winner will embark on the hectic and rewarding process of raising funds to match their grant. Hence, the word “Challenge.” Raising money sounds daunting, and it is, especially for individuals like me and organizations not familiar with the process. However, it’s doable – and   I’ve done it. To help others, I talked with previous winners of the challenge for their stories on how they matched the grant. I’ll start with mine: When I started Reading Queer, which promotes queer literary culture in South Florida, I had never raised money before. I was concerned, but Knight made the process doable. We raised money three ways. I started with traditional and online (social media-driven) fundraising appeals, grants, event revenue and donations. I started with friends and family, and then I reached out to the people who have always supported me in other projects in the past and grew my network from there. I met as many attendees of our events as possible and some of those connections have become financial supporters. I’ve also asked our supporters to talk up the importance of Reading Queer for the community to their friends and family. I asked for ‘big’ money donations. I asked for small, $5 donations. I asked for what people could afford and I did it throughout the year to catch those who maybe couldn’t contribute in May but were ready in July. Here’s the kicker: I’m not a networker or very social, but you don’t have to be a networking-socialite, though it helps. You just have to connect and authentically communicate your idea to the community and they’ll have your back. That’s why you’ve been awarded a grant. Knight picked you because your idea has value. Build your fundraising efforts from that premise. Here’s what other winners said about how they raised their matches. Above: The Smallest Museum in St. Paul. The Smallest Museum in St. Paul, which turned a vintage fire hose cabinet outside a coffee house into a curated display of artists work: “I helped the Smallest Museum in St Paul meet the $5,000 match by appealing to my personal family members, all of whom live outside of Minnesota. My grandmother had passed away in 2013, and her legacy was one of civic leadership through church, school, and politics. She was a formidable matriarch of a North Carolina family, and I sought to engage my family around the excitement of civic participation. I sent a single email to 20 of my family members, explaining the project and Knight Foundation’s vision for igniting communities.” “I knew these family members were not necessarily ‘arts supporters,” so I engaged the next most obvious shared value: civic participation. Within two months, I raised the entire match from that single email. It was a powerful reminder that seeking out donor relationships around shared values is critical to raising funds. We will certainly have to raise money going forward, and we have some ideas about how to make our fundraising playful, which further honors the character of the project. For example, we could riff on the idea of “small” - a fundraiser for small donations (no more than $5) - furthering the spark of accessibility and playful engagement.” – Shannon  Forney, founder Detroit Fiber Works, a fiber arts studio in Detroit that is also a gallery, boutique and learning space: Mandisa Smith, co-owner, Detroit Fiber Works, with Najima Wilson (right). “Raising the funds for our Knight Arts Challenge Fiber Art Project was at once a terrifying prospect, frustrating, mystifying, satisfying and magical. How did we do it? We began by making a list of every single person that we ever met, with the hopes that if everyone we knew just gave us $10, we could make it to our $20,000 goal. 
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    Above: Dark Noise Collective. This post has been updated to reflect that Miami Book Fair is a co-presenter of the event and brings “The Working Poet Radio Show” to South Florida multiple times a year.  Miami Book Fair and O, Miami, both of which receive major support from Knight, are collaborating on the final event for this year’s O, Miami Poetry Festival with a program that brings radical truth-telling to the Little Haiti Culture Center. On Saturday, April 30, from 6-9 p.m., “The Working Poet Radio Show” will host Dark Noise Collective in its Miami debut. Miami Book Fair brings “The Working Poet Radio Show” to South Florida twice a year for “a live-recorded, late-night talk show event focused on the working lives of creative people,” according to fair officials (the series is based in San Diego). This edition with Dark Noise Collective taps deeply into that reservoir of creativity.  Radical truth-telling is potent poetry. It’s the kind of poetry that raises arm hairs while it burrows into bone. It’s poetry that doesn’t ask for permission as its sweet and bitter taste forces us to confront themes of identity, racial politics, white privilege, sex, trauma and healing.  Dark Noise is a collective of six dynamic and provocative multiracial poets, including Fatimah Asghar, Franny Choi, Nate Marshall, Aaron Samuels, Danez Smith and Jamila Woods. The collective has performed around the world at Madison Square Garden, Sweden’s National Poetry Slam, Sanaa Africa Festival and the Apollo Theater. They’ve also been featured on HBO’s “Brave New Voices,” TV One’s “Verses and Flow” and the documentary “Louder Than a Bomb.”
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    Cuba-based poet Soleida Ríos. In Cuba on his recent and historic visit, President Obama made it clear: Let’s bury the hatchet, build bridges and move forward together. On Friday, April 15, O, Miami, which is supported by Knight Foundation, will do its part to normalize relations through literary culture. O, Miami is pairing four acclaimed poets living in Cuba with four acclaimed Cuban-American poets living in the United States for an event called Building Bridges: New Encounters in Cuban Poetry. The reading and discussion panel will feature Cuba-based poets Oscar Cruz, José Ramón Sánchez, Soleida Ríos and Marcelo Morales, and U.S.-based poets Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, Yosie Crespo, Carlos Pintado and Joaquín Badajoz.
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    Above: “Magic City vs. Motor City.” Photos by Neil de la Flor. Miami-based Brigid Baker did an incredible thing: she connected two cities, two disparate urban dance and music cultures, in real time with her project “Magic City vs. Motor City: Internet2 Freestyle.” A two-city freestyle collaboration for urban youth dancers, “Magic City vs. Motor City” was made possible by a Detroit Knight Arts Challenge grant. The grant is Baker’s third–she previously won two in Miami. “Detroit is a very important city to me, and watching it fall into bankruptcy made me want to try to offer some kind of support, so I thought of the Knight Arts Challenge grant,” said Baker, founder of Miami-based 6th Street Dance Studio/WholeProject. On March 22nd, Baker turned the New World Center on Miami Beach into a technological portal that allowed for space and time to collapse. Through the collaborative project, she connected eight former and current Knight Arts Challenge winners together onstage and behind the scenes. Youth dancers freestyled in front of Internet2 screens in a friendly yet fierce dance-off, to music created by New World Symphony fellow Chris Hernacki. Wayne State University musicians and former Detroit Symphony Orchestra bassist Rick Robinson then brought musicians together and split them up to perform live in both cities. (To view a recorded stream of the Detroit side, click here.)
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    Above: A YoungArts event. Photo by Jean Carlos Ramirez. All event photos courtesy of YoungArts. Creating arts programming that represents the breadth and diversity of our culture can be a challenge. For Esther Park, who oversees campus programming at YoungArts (a Knight Arts grantee), this skill seems to come naturally. In some ways, Park’s previous life as an “odd-ball chubby Asian nerd” in high school informs her inclusive programming agenda, where marginalized and stigmatized communities aren’t afterthoughts. Park’s ongoing work has revealed just how possible it is to program really cool and extraordinarily diverse stuff–not as an ad hoc reaction to check off a mandatory bullet point, but as a centerpiece for the revival of the YoungArts campus, as well as the local cultural renaissance it has sparked.    Who is Esther Park? I ask that question to myself every day. Hopefully, the answer to this would be someone who’s a cool, hard-working, down-to-earth, funny human being that loves cats, loves nice people and loves doing what she does every damn day. Oh, and follow me on Instagram, @parkesta (#followforfollow, #hashtaggamestrong, #hashtag). Esther Park. Photo by Joel Meinholz.   Why are you so awesome? And what are your favorite breakfast and TV or Netflix shows? Why is this question even more awesome?! I don’t do breakfast, nor TV. I did, however, binge-watch “Mozart in the Jungle” on Amazon Prime a few months back. It’s probably because I did classical piano for 11 years, and the show brought me back to my nerd-days of geeking out on Chopin vs. Rachmaninoff (obviously Chopin, by far!).   You’ve turned the YoungArts Campus into a thriving center for culture in Miami–but a culture that is inclusive, fun and contemporary. The Outside the Box series has brought various art forms together, such as jazz and skateboarding. What are your inspirations, history, interests–all the stuff that informs your programming decisions? I’ve always been fascinated by subcultures; [things that are] marginalized and often times “written-off” that eventually make it out into the mainstream. Whether that’s growing up going to punk shows or listening to hip-hop or hitting up underground raves during high school, all that formed my identity into who I am today. My main reason for why I was so interested in the subterranean is mainly because of me being the odd-ball chubby Asian nerd in school. Being ostracized was the best thing to ever happen to me in those early adolescent years. It gave me countless hours discovering Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Nam June Paik, Billie Holiday, Fugazi, KRS-One, etc.   What do you hope to accomplish long-term with YoungArts programming? [My] long-term vision for YoungArts programming is that we serve as a genesis for so many new and engaging works across all artistic disciplines. We want the arts community to seek YoungArts as this fertile crescent of futurism–of works that have never been done before; of works that are constantly changing and shifting with the elements of time, space, audience. YoungArts’ core mission is to identify and nurture the most accomplished young artists–with that bountifulness of talent, we have the opportunity to showcase art that people 20-30 years from now will still be talking about.