Knight Foundation announces new $20 million investment in the arts in Detroit – Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation announces new $20 million investment in the arts in Detroit

Funding recognizes the central role of the arts in Detroit and underscores Knight’s commitment to the city

Knight also released today a multi-year study assessing Detroit’s arts ecosystem over the past decade. See findings here.

DETROIT — October 31, 2018 — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today is announcing $20 million in new funding to strengthen the arts in Detroit.

The investment will enable some of the city’s anchor arts institutions to reimagine their relationships with the community through innovation and experimentation. It will also ensure the continuation of the Knight Arts Challenge, an open call that elevates talented individual artists and local organizations.    

“Great art, tough art, challenging art helps to tell a great city’s own story. Nowhere is this more true than today’s Detroit,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president. “This is the place where art, culture and design have changed the narrative of a community. And in the art world, Detroit has become the new Berlin.”

The investment underscores Knight’s commitment to Detroit, where it has invested $52 million in the arts since 2012. Knight further committed $30 million to the so-called Grand Bargain, which helped Detroit emerge from bankruptcy in 2014 while meeting its obligations to pensioners and preserving the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“Great art, tough art, challenging art helps to tell a great city’s own story. Nowhere is this more true than today’s Detroit.” — Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president

All told, Knight has invested more than $170 million in Detroit since 1960, including $56 million since 2012 through its community program, which centers on providing residents with pathways to shape the future of the city through democratic engagement and access to quality information. Knight Newspapers and its successor, Knight Ridder, owned the Detroit Free Press from 1940-2005.

Institutions receiving new support include the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which will diversify its offerings to the community with multi-disciplinary programming, and the Detroit Institute of Arts and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), which will each experiment with technology and new media to engage new and returning visitors, both inside and outside the museums’ walls.

The funding targets smaller and mid-size organizations – including the Concert of Colors, Cinetopia Film Festival and Young Nation – supporting their ability to develop sustainable, long-term business models so that they can continue to provide high-quality programming. Included in the list is a program for support to a cohort of Detroit’s small theaters, representing a cross-section of the city’s thriving performing arts community, which will be announced in early 2019.

The new funding will also ensure that individual artists and organizations can continue to pitch their best arts ideas in the Knight Arts Challenge, a community-wide initiative that has awarded matching grants to more than 250 projects in Detroit since 2013.

Knight Foundation believes that great art and cultural offerings can bind people to place and to one another, and by investing repeatedly in the same city the impact of grant making is amplified.  

“Detroit is rewriting its narrative, and artists are leading the way,” said Victoria Rogers, VP for arts at Knight Foundation. “With our funding, we look to add to that momentum, supporting organizations big and small, as a way to build community through the arts.”

In a multi-year study, released today, data reveals that over the past decade – and in spite of the recession and the city’s changing financial situation – the arts have flourished in Detroit, playing a pivotal role in shaping the city and reinvigorating its reputation as a national center for arts and culture.  

The research for this study, commissioned by Knight Foundation and compiled by independent research firm TDC, included extensive interviews with local artists, residents and stakeholders across the city. The full report is available at

“Detroit is rewriting its narrative, and artists are leading the way.” — Victoria Rogers, VP for arts at Knight Foundation

Also, according to the study, artistic activity and participation have grown substantially, with arts attendance (paid and unpaid) rising 17 percent over the last decade, and 28 percent among Knight Foundation grant recipients. Other signs of progress included substantial revenue growth, and an increase in the number of new works produced.

Despite many positive trends, the study found that 38 percent of organizations have only enough cash reserves to fund 2.5 months or less of operations, which makes fundraising a constant demand.

Knight’s own arts investments in Detroit since 2012 – now exceeding $52 million – have been catalytic in this time of change, providing the support and risk funding artists and organizations needed, the study found.  

Beginning in November 2018, the $20 million will be invested in:

Programming Innovation ($8 million): to help the city’s anchor arts institutions experiment with new, high-quality programming that touches thousands each year.

Read our blog highlighting seven ways the Detroit arts ecosystem has evolved over a decade.

Growing Capacity to Support New Models ($3.175 million): to support their ability to develop sustainable, long-term business models so that they can continue to provide high-quality programming.

The Knight Arts Challenge ($6 million): to operate biannually and hold true to its original intention as a city-wide initiative where anyone can submit an idea for funding.  (The 2018 winners were announced Nov. 7 at a celebration event at The Fillmore.)

In 2019, Knight Foundation will award over $2.8 million to additional arts projects and organizations, yet to be determined, that align with the strategic goals of its overall arts investment in Detroit.

Below are details about the grantees:

Programming Innovation

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall: $2,500,000

To activate the campus of The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center by redeveloping the courtyard into a community space, presenting multi-disciplinary programming that attracts new audiences and transforming the façade of the building with digital content 

The Detroit Institute of Arts: $2,500,000

To attract new audiences and enhance the visitor experience by strengthening the museum’s technology infrastructure and continuing to experiment with digital experiences in the galleries

Sphinx Organization: $1,500,000

To create a diverse network of leaders in classical music with Sphinx LEAD, the professional development and fellowship program for emerging leaders of color in Knight cities

Michigan Opera Theatre: $1,000,000

To foster a new relevancy for opera by presenting non-traditional, cross-disciplinary contemporary works of opera as well as new interpretations of the canon

Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD): $500,000

To reach more audiences regionally and internationally with new media programming onsite at MOCAD and online

Growing Capacity to Support New Models 

Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan 

Detroit Theater Cohort: $1,325,000

To address capacity issues, leverage strengths and support innovation in Detroit’s theatre arts sector

Creative Many Michigan Inc.: $750,000

To help emerging and mid-career artists take risks by providing them with financial resources and the time to research and develop new work without the immediate pressure of presenting it

Design Core Detroit via the College for Creative Studies: $300,000                     

To create the Detroit City of Design Competition, an annual competition among designers in UNESCO City of Design cities that will produce installations in neighborhoods and give the public a tangible way to experience design innovation in Detroit

CultureSource: $200,000

To expand CultureSource’s ability to strengthen the arts and cultural sector with funding to help it implement its strategic plan 

Arts League of Michigan: $100,000         

To help the Carr Center present more high-quality programming by establishing a reserve fund that will support its financial sustainability and help it plan into the future 

Concert of Colors via CultureSource: $100,000                     

To provide essential resources that help develop this concert’s capacity to offer high-quality programming 

Freep Film Fest: $100,000

To increase access to documentary film by expanding the Freep Film Festival’s programming and reach through high-profile events, adding two staff members and streamlining ticketing services

Michigan Theater Foundation: $100,000

To increase access to high-quality film programming in the region by creating two staff positions at Michigan Theater’s Cinetopia Film Festival

The Heidelberg Project: $100,000

To expand the impact of one of the city’s most highly visited cultural sites by strengthening the organization’s programmatic, operational and revenue-generating capacity

Young Nation: $100,000

To continue to activate public spaces in Southwest Detroit through the arts by increasing the organization’s financial security

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

Contact: Peter Van Dyke, Van Dyke Horn Public Relations, [email protected]
Images available upon request

Image (top): The Detroit Institute of Arts’  DIA) Lumin enables visitors to explore the collection on a deeper level through augmented reality and 3-D animations. Knight Foundation made a $150,000 investment in DIA’s arts-tech experimentation efforts last year. The museum will continue this work with a new $2.5 million investment from Knight announced today. Image courtesy of DIA. Color manipulations added by Knight Foundation.