Detroit: Building on the city’s creative momentum

Seven of Detroit’s cultural institutions will receive support from Knight Foundation as part of its newly announced $19.25 investment in the city’s cultural community. READ MORE

I’m in Detroit tonight, excited to announce $19.25 million in support for the local arts. Since we started funding cultural projects in the city three years ago, we’ve been impressed by how artists, creatives and entrepreneurs are driving the future of the city. We want to amplify that, and bring new energy to the community.

As you’ll see below, Knight is investing in seven institutions that, despite recent economic challenges, continue to innovate and pursue forward thinking strategies for engaging audiences.

Those investments are only the beginning, though. We’re also excited to bring the Knight Arts Challenge to Detroit. Starting in March, we’ll be asking everybody, and we mean everybody, for their innovative ideas for engaging and enriching Detroit through the arts.

Find out more in today’s news release, below.

And Detroit, get ready to give us your best ideas in the arts.

By Dennis Scholl, vice president/Arts at Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation invests $19.25 million in Detroit arts

Institutions, grassroots projects gain support

Burgeoning Detroit arts scene

DETROIT, Oct. 23 – Building on the city’s creative momentum, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced $19.25 million in support for the arts in Detroit.

The funding is part of the Knight Arts Challenge, a two-pronged initiative that aims to engage and enrich Detroit through the arts by supporting the projects of organizations small and large, individuals and grassroots groups.

At a reception tonight in Detroit, Knight Foundation is announcing a $10.25 million commitment to seven of the city’s premiere institutions. The projects will engage Detroiters by presenting opera and museum masterpieces in unexpected places, fostering a love of reading through the arts and providing training for the next generation of artists, among others efforts.

Then in March, Knight Foundation will launch a communitywide contest to find and fund the best arts ideas. Everyone is eligible for funding through the challenge – individual artists, organizations and businesses. The contest has three simple rules: 1) The idea must be about the arts, 2) the project must take place in or benefit Detroit and 3) the grant recipients must find funds to match Knight’s commitment.

Over three years, Knight Foundation is committing $9 million to the best art ideas received via the Knight Arts Challenge.

“We believe Detroit’s future will be driven by entrepreneurs, artists and designers, building on an impressive existing infrastructure,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “That’s why we’ve adopted a two-tier approach to our investment, supporting some of Detroit’s most distinguished institutions as well as opening arts funding to everyone with the talent, energy and inspiration through the Knight Arts Challenge.”

The institutions receiving grants were chosen for their commitment to artistic excellence and their willingness to experiment with ways to engage audiences, said Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation’s vice president for arts.

The grantees are:

Arab American National Museum ($750,000): Supporting cross-cultural understanding through a forum that focuses on the role of arts in building and engaging communities.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History ($750,000): Using the arts to foster an interest in reading by weaving interactive cultural experiences throughout the museum’s Children’s Book Fair.

Detroit Institute of Arts ($2.25 million): Experimenting with new programs that will take the institute’s world-class art collection out of the museum and into the community.

Detroit School of Arts ($2.25 million): Building a pipeline of future artists by inviting working professionals from prominent cultural institutions to teach and mentor high school students.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra ($2.25 million): Expanding the audience for classical music by offering the symphony experience worldwide through expanded webcast and mobile content.

Michigan Opera Theatre ($1 million): Bringing the opera into the community through performances in community spaces and commissioning a new opera based on the city’s rich cultural history.

Sphinx Organization ($1 million): Supporting the development of young musicians of color through Detroit’s annual Sphinx Competition.

Complete project descriptions are below.

Detroit is the third city where Knight Foundation has offered the Knight Arts Challenge. In the first six rounds of the contest, in Miami and Philadelphia, the challenge invested $22.5 million in 180 projects.

“So much of the exciting momentum in the arts bubbles up from the grassroots. The challenge gives the community, the people with the innovative ideas, the opportunity to propose those ideas, and make them a reality. It’s an ideas contest, truly open to everybody. We’re looking to hearing from the community in March,” Scholl said.

For more about the challenge, visit

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit


Andrew Sherry, Vice President/Communications, 305-908-2677, [email protected]

The Arab American National Museum, the only one if its kind in the United States, uses arts and culture to break down racial and ethnic barriers in Southeast Michigan.  The museum produces Detroit’s annual Concert of Colors, a free festival of world music, which once included a forum on “Community, Race and Culture” that explored the role of arts in building and engaging communities. Knight funding will restore the forum and help rebuild the Cultural Exchange Network of 50 arts organizations that originally facilitated the Concert of Colors.

“The Arab American National Museum takes great pride in its multicultural programming and its commitment to using the arts to bridge the gap between peoples. This major support helps us sustain our multicultural programming and reinforce our commitment to enrich the cultural landscape of our region for the benefit of all.”

–       Dr. Anan Ameri, founding director, Arab American National Museum

The museum’s Children’s Book Fair engages kids from throughout the city with featured writers, book giveaways, and a range of performing artists. Families also participate in hands-on arts projects that focus on the relationships between art, language and reading. Knight funding will help the fair build on that success by developing interpretative arts experiences that seek to foster creativity and compel an interest in reading.

“Given the museum’s unique role in the community, we felt we had to do our part to encourage literacy, which is foundational to understanding history and appreciating the arts. The museum initiated several literacy initiatives in 2012, including a book fair, book giveaways, summer camps and storytelling programs.  Funding from Knight Foundation will allow some of these efforts to continue on an ongoing basis, helping children and their families build book libraries and make reading a daily activity.  It will take everyone working to erase our illiteracy challenge and improve the quality of life for all.”

–      Juanita Moore, president and CEO, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

As museums seek meaningful ways to engage with the public, the Detroit Institute of Arts found a winning model with its Inside|Out program, which brings high-quality reproductions of masterpieces from the museum’s collection to the streets and parks of metro Detroit. The program, which recently completed its third year and is sponsored by Knight Foundation, has fostered concerts, poetry readings, talks, tours and art installations, as well as a sense of pride in the community and ownership of the museum. Now the institute wants to build on that success by experimenting with a range of programs to inspire creativity, knowledge of art and the museum’s collection, and a dialogue about local arts and culture.

“This generous gift will help the institute fund innovative new programs that respond to community interests through a dynamic dialogue. It will also help us expand upon current engagement programs that highlight the role art can play in personal lives and communities.”

–       Graham W. J. Beal, Director, Detroit Institute of Arts

A coalition – including the University of Michigan, the Detroit Arts Corridor Organization, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan Opera Theatre, Sphinx, Mosaic Youth Theatre, among others and the school district – is working to position the Detroit School of Arts as one of the nation’s preeminent arts high schools. Knight funding will help forward that mission, by bringing professional artists from these key organizations into the classrooms, after school and during the summer, as mentors and role models. The project will strengthen the pipeline of talented local artists building the vibrant local arts community.

“The opportunity for the students from Detroit School of Arts to learn from individuals already established in their profession, as both mentors and role models, will be invaluable not only in their academic, but also their personal growth. As I’ve said frequently, ‘It’s a new day at DPS.’ This new model is just one example of how we’re reshaping the way we educate our students.”

 – Roy Roberts, emergency manager, Detroit Public Schools

As symphony orchestras contemplate how to better engage audiences in the digital age, Detroit’s is embracing new opportunities to expand both access and interaction. Last year, the symphony reached 120,000 music lovers from 75 countries through webcasts of its performances, sponsored by Knight Foundation. New funding will enhance the organization’s digital outreach, by expanding the webcast through new, worldwide distributors in addition to creating preconcert and intermission content, enhancing its DSO to GO app with mobile ticketing, experimenting with HD viewing parties and simulcasting concerts outdoors.

“Whenever the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has a new direction we are intrigued to pursue, usually experimental in nature and often accompanied by a fair degree of risk, Knight Foundation has been a place we turned for guidance, inspiration and support.  Our most recent venture around the use of digital media to engage a broader, more diverse audience and increase our orchestra’s impact on a global level, was made possible by Knight Foundation’s encouragement and generosity.  Last season’s free “Live from Orchestra Hall” webcasts were viewed by over 120,000 people in 75 countries, many through our mobile app, DSO to Go.” 

–       Ann Parsons, president and CEO, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

The Michigan Opera’s newest home is at the intersection of art, entertainment and downtown living. Taking advantage of the location, the opera is seeking to become a bigger part of the lives of its neighbors. With Knight funding, the opera will produce free and reduced-cost programs at the theater and in the community, including during the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s River Days Program, and by offering informal mini-operas that appeal to new audiences. The opera also plans to commission a new opera based on Detroit’s rich cultural history.

“We treasure this opportunity to strengthen our community through arts and culture, and our goal is to capitalize on the city’s current growth to build more awareness for opera. New audiences are tremendously important to this company’s future, and with the transformation taking place around us right now, the Michigan Opera Theatre sees a great deal of potential within the city of Detroit, especially with so many young people moving downtown.”

–       David DiChiera, founder and general director, Michigan Opera Theatre

The annual Sphinx Competition seeks to increase diversity on concert stages by providing new opportunities to young Black and Latino string players.  The annual competition identifies, recognizes, rewards and nurtures young and talented musicians of color by providing 18 musicians the opportunity to compete and perform live on stage before audiences and judges for prizes and performance opportunities. Since 1998, the competition has aided and developed more than 200 young classical musicians of color, clearly demonstrating the incredible diversity of talent and artistic excellence that exists within Black and Latino communities. Knight Foundation’s funding will support all aspects and activities of the Sphinx Competition, including the Competition’s Honor and Final concert performances that reach over 3,000 in live audiences and 2 million in broadcast audiences annually.

“The support from Knight Foundation will help the national Sphinx Competition continue to build the network of young black and Latino string players who are changing the face of classical music in their communities.  Given the importance of our mission, it is critically important to have consistency and long-term sustainability for the impact of our programs, and this commitment on the part of Knight Foundation strengthens this important aspect of our work.”

–       Aaron Dworkin, founder and president, Sphinx Organization