Knight Foundation invests $2.1 million to help Charlotte’s arts community innovate during COVID-19

The funding will help Charlotte arts and cultural institutions integrate technology and boost equity to engage broader audiences.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — (Dec. 17, 2020) —  In a time of physical distancing, technology is playing a key role in helping artists, arts organizations and cultural institutions connect with communities near and far. To enable this transition, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has committed $2.1 million to help Charlotte’s arts and culture community innovate, increase diversity and expand reach as they reimagine a new normal.

“Technology is a powerful tool for cultural organizations to connect ideas to audiences, especially in a time when the pandemic has increased the physical distance between us,” said Chris Barr, Knight’s director of arts and tech innovation. “In Charlotte, Knight’s support will allow existing organizations to explore a new chapter of creativity as they evolve to reach new audiences safely and effectively.”

Knight Foundation’s latest investments in Charlotte’s arts community reinforce the Foundation’s belief in the power of the arts to strengthen communities by connecting people to place and to each other. 

“Throughout the pandemic, it has become even more evident that the arts are essential,” said Priya Sircar, director of Knight’s arts program. “In addition to supporting the creation of new art, it is equally important for Knight to invest in programs and strategies that put equity and inclusion at its center, incorporating the many diverse communities of Charlotte into the process.”

The arts organizations — Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Levine Museum of the New South, Que-OS, Queen City New Play Initiative and JazzArts Charlotte — are planning a new approach to programming and community engagement, launching a digital-first museum, hosting  in-person and online activities, launching a new play initiative and using digital engagement to build new audiences.

Here are more details about the grantees and their work:

  • Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture ($1,000,000): To expand the reach and impact of the Gantt by supporting a digital team that brings a new approach to programming and community engagement. Knight’s investment will help hire a technology team to produce digital experiences, virtual exhibitions and creative family programming. The use of digital strategies and platforms will allow the Gantt, which celebrates the contributions of Africans and African-Americans to American culture, to continue supporting equitable engagement across the local community through its Initiative for Equity + Innovation, a permanent strategy designed to build racial equality by using the arts as activism. Additionally, new digital productions and programming will assist the museum in building new audiences, community partnerships and donor connections.
  • Levine Museum of the New South ($600,000): To support a digital strategy during a period of transition from facility-based programming to a community-centered, digital-first museum. Knight’s investment will allow the museum to develop digital content and systems infrastructure and to conduct audience research. Through this strategy, the museum will strengthen its relations with Charlotte’s marginalized communities. The Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte is known for using history to build an equitable community through exhibits, experiences and programs that tell stories that foster empathy and dialogue. After conducting several studies, the museum concluded that a digital platform would allow it to achieve higher audience engagement. The investment will also support a staff of media producers and the launch of a comprehensive digital plan.
  • Que-OS ($200,000): To support organizational transformation through strategic planning, professional development and digital programs at Que-OS, an artist-led organization that produces BOOM, Charlotte’s annual fringe festival. The grant will allow Que-OS to craft a strategic plan for sustainability and growth, and support staff professional development. Knight’s investment will also assist the organization in the expansion of its digital programs including its transition from producing one annual, in-person event to a hybrid of ongoing in-person and online activities.
  • Queen City New Play Initiative ($100,000): To provide seed funding for Queen City New Play Initiative, an emerging playwright service organization in Charlotte. Co-founded with director Martin Damien Wilkins and currently led by nationally-recognized playwright Stacey Rose, Queen City New Play Initiative incubates new plays that are of, by, and for the Charlotte community with a focus on local playwrights, stories about communities of color and Southern storytelling. Funds will be used to support its staff, professional development, and programming including artist talks, readings and play development workshops.
  • JazzArts Charlotte ($250,000): To provide support for digital engagement and the expansion of JazzArts Charlotte’s staff. Knight’s investment will support expanding its development and marketing staff positions and a new Tech + Digital Media Producer role that will focus on digital strategy and the execution of new programs. Funds will also support new technology projects and digital programs that build audience engagement with jazz music through digital content and digital program delivery. 

These initiatives are just the latest examples of Knight’s commitment to Charlotte through the arts. Earlier this year, Knight and the Urban Institute released the “Community Ties” report, which explored what attaches people to the places where they live. The study, conducted before the COVID-19 shutdowns, found that public spaces and the arts play a key role in boosting community engagement. After the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, Charlotte-based artists created public works that found ways to engage residents despite the challenges of the pandemic. Some examples included murals and street art in downtown Charlotte and the Historic West End. 

For interviews, please contact Alexa Lamanna at [email protected] or 202-320-2766.

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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 kf.org.

Image (top) by Ben Premeaux; Levine Museum of the New South.