Random Acts of Culture documentary wins regional Emmy

Above: Random Acts of Culture at Miami International Airport. Photo: Knight Foundation.

Trailer for Random Acts of Culture.

Some 1,300 events, almost 9 million YouTube views, and now one regional Emmy: Saturday night, a documentary on Random Acts of Culture, the Knight Foundation program that surprised people across the United States by taking performers out of the symphony halls and into the streets, won a 2015 Suncoast Emmy.

The film was produced by Knight Foundation and filmmakers Dennis Scholl, former vice president for arts, and Marlon Johnson. This is Scholl and Johnson’s sixth regional Emmy together.

For more than two years, Random Acts popped up in primarily eight Knight cities, hiding baritones in shoe departments, rolling xylophones down supermarket aisles and loading entire choirs onto Metro cars as a way to remind people about the importance and value of the arts in their lives. The videos of the performances went viral, including one orchestrated by Opera Philadelphia, where 600 choristers popped into a Macy’s during the holiday season and began to sing Handel’s “Messiah.”

That and other videos helped recruit new fans for the company, and the singers enjoyed their moment of fame as they began to be stopped on the street.

The documentary, which premiered in South Florida, goes through the evolution of the program, from the first performance – an experiment at Miami-Dade County Hall, to its culmination in a four-city finale.

While vice president for arts, Scholl conceived the idea as he sought new ways to engage audiences. A friend had sent him a video from a market in Valencia, Spain, where a man selling ham bursts into an aria. Six people from the crowd joined in, and the crowd was captivated.

After a trial run in Miami, partners in all eight Knight cities began to conduct Random Acts of Culture in their communities.

After more than 1,000 performances, the program held grand finales in San Jose, Calif., Philadelphia, Detroit and Miami, where performers on the iconic Lincoln Road performed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in a variety of formats, from jazz to gospel and Afro-Cuban music.

Scholl hopes the film will be shown on PBS affiliates around the country.

More Random Acts videos are available at