Six questions with Knight Foundation’s Victoria Rogers

Arts / Article

Above: NorthernLights.MN, a St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge winner.

For the past year, Victoria Rogers has traveled the country, meeting artists, attending performances and exhibitions and getting to know the eight Knight communities where the foundation’s arts program invests. What brought her to this point in her career as Knight’s vice president for arts, and how would she like the program to have an impact?

We sat down with Rogers to find out more about what she has planned for the arts program.

Q. How did the arts become your career path? What were your earliest experiences with the arts? 

From a very young age I was exposed to the arts. I was lucky. I had parents who valued and encouraged creativity. They read to me, took me to the library, to concerts. I took ballet, tap and piano lessons and with my cousins, learned dialogue and performed plays written by my aunt in the summers. I learned to play the oboe, and I can only imagine how excruciating that was at times for my musician father who was gifted with perfect pitch.

I can’t imagine a world without the arts. For me, the arts became both avocation and vocation.

Q. Your goal is to help foster strong arts ecosystems in the communities where Knight invests. What does that mean to you? 

Each of our cities is very different. Some like Miami have a strong grassroots arts community and visual arts scene. Others like Philadelphia have a core group of long-time funders and large institutions. For the arts to truly be part and parcel of the fabric of a community, every part of the ecosystem needs to exist.  Artists who can make a living from their work, institutions that teach, present and support their work, funders (individuals, government, foundations) and the public – all of us – the people who attend performances, see films, visit galleries and museums or donate time as volunteers. How can we at Knight help build and support that? Those are the questions we will be looking at this coming year.

Q. In five years, if you’re wildly successful, what does that look like?

I’m looking forward to seeing cities where the arts are accessible to all.  I want to see cities where the arts and artists are celebrated, supported and reflective of the rich diversity of peoples and cultures within our communities. 

Q. The deadline is approaching on May 2 for the Knight Arts Challenge in four cities. What are you really looking for from applicants?  

Artists are creative, and we want ideas that reflect that magic.  We hope to get ideas that are based in the rich diversity of our cities, ideas that engage people in the arts, ideas that use the arts to tell our stories and bind us to the places we live.

Q. What are people surprised to learn about you? 

I’m a certified diver.  For a number of years, I dove nearly every weekend and have well over 300 dives logged – deep dives, shallow dives, night dives, drift dives, nitrox and rescue certifications, diving in sites around-the-world.  I met interesting people, gained a different perspective and challenged myself in new ways. 

Video: Detroit artist Nick Cave.

Q. You’ve been at Knight a year. Tell me about your time. What have been your…

Cultural highlights?

Two of the many come to mind: experiencing the “raise the hair on the back of your neck” pure excitement and emotional explosion of a Nick Cave performance in Detroit and seeing Akron jazz musician Theron Brown in a cameo role as Herbie Hancock in “Miles Ahead,” a biopic about Miles Davis that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Biggest surprises on the ground?  

The depth and richness of artistic practice in our Knight cities.

Things you are most looking forward to in 2016?

Seeing the grants we’ve made come to fruition and the impact they will have, and reading what each of these amazing cities will submit during this year’s Knight Art Challenges.