Building the arts in Miami

A new report looks at the impact the Knight Arts Challenge is having on South Florida. Watch videos profiles of the winners, read a summary on our blog and download the full report below or go here to browse the Knight Arts Challenge Miami Winners.

Executive summary

The Knight Arts Challenge seeks to recognize the best and most innovative ideas from local organizations and individuals in the arts and cultural sector of South Florida. The region’s sector is young compared to that of New York, Boston or Chicago. Over the past 10 years, however, South Florida has experienced significant growth and development, including the launch of Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002, the opening of the largest performing arts center in Florida, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (then the Carnival Center) in 2006, and the opening of Miami Beach’s New World Center home of the New World Symphony in 2011.

The Knight Arts Challenge is designed is to contribute to Miami’s cultural development, building upon the momentum of the past decade. The Arts Challenge seeks to achieve systemic impact across South Florida’s cultural sector. Its primary goals are:
  • To strengthen South Florida’s artistic and cultural development, and improve the perception of the city as a cultural destination.
  • To engage communities in the region through the arts, and in particular to use the arts to bridge differences across diverse communities.

Projects span the entire spectrum of the arts (in terms of genre, scale and ambition) and are designed to fuel the momentum of the region’s nascent, but growing cultural activity. One Knight Arts Challenge winner, the Adrienne Arsht Center, for example, launched the popular Free Gospel Sundays series during Black History Month in 2008 to celebrate gospel music in Miami. Another Arts Challenge winner, The Miami Light Project’s Here & Now Festival, presents bold, original, performing art from the region, invites artists and producers from outside Miami to see local performances and offers stipends for Miami artists to attend festivals in the United States and abroad.

Some Arts Challenge projects are designed to help nurture and educate aspiring artists, retain local talent and attract national and international interest in the region’s creative community. The Borscht Film Festival, another winning project, commissions short films by emerging local filmmakers, several of which have been accepted to major film festivals, including the renowned Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and Austin’s South by Southwest music and arts festival. Other Arts Challenge winners are seeking to document the region’s growing cultural activity; for example Miami-based artist and writer Gean Moreno, launched [NAME] Publications, a nonprofit press to give local artists a different outlet to disseminate their ideas. [NAME] Publications’ books have been featured in the New York Art Book Fair, at the NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) fair in Miami, the New Museum and Printed Matter in New York.

The Arts Challenge’s breadth reflects the idea that a healthy cultural ecology is diverse and includes artists, educators, students, presenters, promoters, funders, policymakers, critics, commentators and, not least, audiences. The winning projects span a wide range of entities, sizes, ages and art forms, and support audience development at various levels of engagement, from first-time participants and amateur practitioners to professionals meeting the highest international standards.

The Arts Challenge seeks to underscore the perception of South Florida among both residents and nonresidents alike as a place of culture. Done well, the assumption is this in turn helps attract artists, patrons and media attention, and further propels the region’s cultural development.

The Arts Challenge has three simple rules: applications should be about the arts; the creativity should take place in or benefit South Florida; and applicants should find other sources of funding to match the Knight Foundation grant.
The Challenge involves a two-round process. In the first round, applicants provide a brief description of their idea – no more than 150 words. A panel of readers drawn from the arts and cultural community winnows down the ideas, and proposes a set of finalists. These finalists are then invited to submit a three-page proposal, comprising a project description and proposed budget, which are reviewed by the readers and the foundation. In each round, final decisions are made by the foundation.

The Challenge is conceived as a magnet that pulls good ideas about the arts from the community, showcasing and investing in them, and thereby lifting the Miami cultural sector to a higher level of vibrancy, confidence and recognition. The approach assumes a net-positive effect through the extent to which new ideas are fostered (some of which might wind up being executed without foundation support), and artists and organizations are encouraged to engage with professional fund raising and philanthropic practices (skills they may end up putting into use more widely).

So how did the Arts Challenge do in these endeavors?
Our assessment focused on four ambitions of the Arts Challenge:
  • Does it generate ideas from the creative community?
  • Does it draw new capital into the sector?
  • Does it fuel the creative zeitgeist of South Florida?
  • Do the winning projects have significant impact?

The assessment used surveys, focus groups and interviews with applicants, stakeholders, funders and opinion formers locally and nationally, as well as a comprehensive review of grant documentation. Our conclusions and recommendations, presented with a caveat because of the interim nature of the exercise as well as the lack of detailed benchmarks and metrics for each grant, are summarized below.

Generating Ideas from the Creative Community
The simplicity of the Arts Challenge application format has generated a high number of submissions from the community. Between 2008 and 2011, the Challenge received 5,299 total submissions from 2,432 applicants.

Unusual for a foundation grant program, the Arts Challenge has tapped into a wide pool of creativity in the region; nearly three-fifths of applicants are not 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations but individual artists alongside a scattering of private businesses, arts collectives and public agencies.
There is stronger evidence that the Arts Challenge assists grantees in realizing existing ideas than in stimulating new ones. Sixteen percent of survey respondents indicated that their idea had been developed in response to the Challenge, while 73 percent indicated that their idea existed before the Arts Challenge. This may in part be attributable to a “backlog” of ideas in circulation, and one can anticipate that this ratio will change over time.

Significantly, a survey of unsuccessful applicants found that two in five (43 percent) respondents believe the process of applying to the Art Challenge was beneficial even though their proposals were rejected. Many unsuccessful applicant respondents reported that the process improved or honed their application idea. A sizeable number of them noted that the process sparked collaboration with another group or artist, and 48 percent of them report pursuing their ideas in some fashion despite not winning.

These are significant findings. They suggest that the Arts Challenge process and broad approach to marketing has had a “halo effect” beyond winners, stimulating thinking and action among a wide circle of creative individuals and organizations in the community – and that it is widely perceived to have had this net positive effect, even by those who did not end up winning. The interviews confirmed this conclusion.

Drawing New Philanthropic Capital into the Arts and Culture
The Arts Challenge awards are contingent on a funding match, usually one to one, and the track record to date in meeting the match has been strong, with some relatively minor pragmatic adjustments to timing or percentage being made by the Foundation for a small number of grantees.

The matching requirement is intended to leverage Knight Foundation’s own contribution, to bring new funds into the cultural sector in Miami and to encourage organizations to develop fundraising skills. Seventy-eight percent of matching funds raised to date has come from a combination of individuals, trusts or foundations, with some corporate support; and the balance has come from special events and other earned income. While some less experienced organizations expressed a degree of concern about what it required to make the match, most grantees did not, and some start-ups welcomed the opportunity that the match provided to help them develop professionally.

It was not possible, however, to establish what percentage of the matching funds was new to the arts, or to the arts in Miami. This was not part of grantees’ reporting requirements, and most had not sought this information from their donors. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the proportion of new funds was relatively low – most Arts Challenge winners reported that they had reached out to their existing constituency for the match, although many mentioned employing new techniques in doing so. In particular, among the winners, individuals, start-ups and small creative enterprises reported learning the most about new ways of fundraising that would continue beyond the life of their Arts Challenge-funded project.

Almost all interviewed winners mentioned the importance of the Knight Foundation imprimatur in securing the match, particularly when approaching individuals and other foundations. In interviews, respondents also noted that the Challenge’s support came at a critical time following the national economic downtown and functioned as a “stimulus project” for Miami’s creative community.

Fueling Momentum and Adding to Miami’s “Creative Zeitgeist”
We investigated whether the Arts Challenge – the mechanism of the competition, the awards themselves and media coverage they generated – had a cumulative impact on the ecology of the arts in South Florida by seeking the views of funders, stakeholders and applicants on the cultural vitality of the region, the supportiveness of the environment as a place for artists to work and live, and the contribution of the Arts Challenge to these aspects of life.

A majority of those consulted reported that South Florida has become more culturally vibrant over the past five years. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents and all interviewees reported that the Arts Challenge has made an important contribution to this trend alongside the establishment of new cultural venues and large cultural events. The Arts Challenge is also viewed by a majority of survey respondents and interviewees as contributing to making the region a supportive place for artists to work.

The Arts Challenge itself had garnered 76 mentions in the paper press and eight instances of television coverage by the time of this study. Prominent publications reporting on the Challenge included The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, The Atlantic and The Associated Press. The overarching theme of these stories was Miami’s cultural vitality and dynamism.

While the Arts Challenge has contributed to the arts and culture sector, several impediments still impede the region’s cultural growth. Those widely articulated by respondents include a still developing tradition of local philanthropy, the absence of strong critical voices, under-articulated political support for the sector and the transient culture and sprawling geography of the Miami-Dade region.

Impact of Arts Challenge Winning Projects
This review does not include a detailed evaluation of individual projects, although the concluding chapters draw out some general observations about the collective work of grantees and profile a selection of Arts Challenge winners. The analysis does show a broad geographic spread of applications, albeit with a concentration in downtown and northeast Miami and Miami Beach that is higher than population density alone would explain. This reflects the location of the cultural community. The visual arts are strongly represented (40 percent of applicants and 37 percent of winners), perhaps reflecting the larger number of smaller organizations and independently working individuals in the visual arts compared with performing arts.

The Arts Challenge has resulted in many well-received and innovative projects that may not otherwise have come to fruition, as well as several new multidisciplinary collaborations among large organizations. Perhaps the best example of that was the Miami City Ballet’s collaboration with the Cleveland Orchestra via an Arts Challenge grant.

As one would anticipate, the impact of the Arts Challenge has been deeper for individuals, start-ups and less prominent organizations.

For many of these grantees, the level of funding, visibility and the reputational boost afforded by winning an Arts Challenge grant represent a step-change in their organizational or project development.

The diverse individual aims of Arts Challenge projects mirror the preoccupations of arts groups, grant makers and cultural policymakers across the United States, and encompass the salient dynamics now evident in the current phase of Miami’s maturation into a nationally recognized arts and cultural center. Winning projects have contributed to the vibrancy of South Florida’s arts scene in four broad areas:
  • Expanding participation to broaden access to, encourage participation in and develop audiences for the arts in South Florida.
  • Supporting local artists in the development of their skills and in the creation, presentation and promotion of their work.
  • Celebrating cultural diversity to give voice to and bring together communities across the region’s demographic landscape.
  • Documenting cultural activity by curating, recording or showcasing the breadth of creative activities in region.

Our review generated a series of recommendations for strengthening the Knight Arts Challenge:
1. Cultivate the applicant pool. The present contest design of harvesting ideas from the community and selecting winners does not invest in the process of improving the pool of ideas. This is analogous to buying an orchard and picking the perfectly ripe fruit, while letting everything else fall to the ground. At some point, if one wants a fertile and sustainable orchard, one needs to prune the trees, fertilize the soil and harvest some of the fruit that is not perfect. We recommend thinking of the pool of ideas as a community asset and allocating resources to:
  • Improving the pool of ideas.
  • Reflecting the best ideas back to the community and otherwise providing feedback to applicants.
  • Facilitating community interaction around common threads of ideas.
  • Incorporating a process into the program design that identifies promising ideas and supports their further development by carrying forward the best ideas from one year to the next, with some ability to fund their further development, much like a business with a portfolio of products in various stages of research and development.

2. Showcase good ideas. Given that good ideas per se have a high salience in the Arts Challenge and that many good ideas are inevitably rejected, we recommend that more be made of the ideas in addition to the current dissemination – perhaps an “Ideas Fest” or an event of some sort in which there is the opportunity for winners and losers to workshop their ideas.

3. Attract additional funding. The match and requirements for larger organizations vs. smaller organizations and individuals might usefully be more clearly differentiated. Many applicants claimed the match requirements were initially opaque. We recommend that some thought be given to creating clearer guidelines that reflect the different capacities and different scales of operation of the applicants.

4. Improve outcome metrics. We recommend a greater emphasis on the metrics of success in the second application round of the contest so that awards and subsequent monitoring can include these data points. There is an opportunity to refine evaluation methods to gauge the impact of the Challenge with greater precision. Performance indicators can be developed with respect to various areas, such as:
  • Expanding access and audiences.
  • Supporting individual artists.
  • Celebrating cultural diversity.
  • Documenting artistic activity.

These indicators need to be tailored to individual projects at the time of project award so that there are clear benchmarks for measuring success at the individual grantee level.

5. Improve tracking of matching fund sources. We also recommend the adoption of a requirement that successful applicants provide more detail on the sources of matching funds – and whether these funds and funders are new to the sector.

6. Release matching capital early. Greater consideration should be given to releasing a small percentage of the award prior to the match being met, in order to provide “start-up” working capital for projects, especially for smaller, under-capitalized grantees. Clearly this puts the amounts released at risk, but there was a general sense among grantees that the inability to access funds until the match was fully met impeded their progress.

7. Delineate additional grant criteria. While the elegance and simplicity of the program may be compromised by layering on other implicit or explicit funding criteria, such as diversity, geographical coverage and projects that bridge communities, all these appear to play a part in the decision-making but are not among the stated criteria. The process might be invigorated by making these additional criteria more explicit, either by choosing a focus theme each year (e.g. building bridges between cultures, participatory engagement or individual artists) or simply by prioritizing certain areas explicitly.  Alternatively, the foundation could pick up on other implicit themes: the “deinstitutionalization” of the arts, fostering direct participation between audiences and artists, or audiences and the art experience.

8. Embrace more crowd-sourcing. Framing of the program as a contest taps into current interest and excitement around crowd-sourcing, and includes many positive aspects, including openness to a broader array of applicants and the generation of a large pool of ideas. The wisdom of crowds could be tapped more deeply by having communities play a role in selecting which projects to fund. As one champion of the Arts Challenge described it: “The challenge is about ideas … ideas and the unstoppable momentum of Miami’s cultural development. Ideas that are putting our community on the map in terms of high quality, art and experiences. … I don’t have the answers. I believe in the crowds.”

9. Resolve the geographic criteria. There is a lack of clarity and consistency in communicating whether the geographic focus of the Challenge is Miami or South Florida. Our recommendation is to embrace “greater Miami” as the focus of the Challenge.

10. Ensure a multilingual approach. The Arts Challenge cannot be inclusive without reaching more deeply into Miami communities and cultural networks and doing so with a multilingual approach. We recommend that Knight Foundation publish its application and marketing documents in Spanish and French; translate the website; hire Spanish- and French-speaking grant administrators and “ambassadors” and conduct recruiting sessions and town halls in these languages.

The Knight Arts Challenge has made a significant contribution to Miami’s cultural development, through its efforts to surface, showcase and invest in the best ideas from the arts community. The following pages in this report detail the Challenge’s role in increasing the vibrancy, confidence and recognition of the region’s cultural sector.

Continue reading the full report here (PDF).