Knight Foundation invests $2.2 million to help Miami artists innovate during COVID-19 and beyond – Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation invests $2.2 million to help Miami artists innovate during COVID-19 and beyond

Nine Miami organizations received support to increase diversity, use technology to expand audience engagement and produce new works adapted to physical distancing. 

MIAMI — (Dec. 17, 2020) — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced a  $2.2 million investment to support nine Miami arts and culture organizations’ quest to increase diversity and make advances in digital innovation.

The grantees — Third Horizon, Miami City Ballet, Bookleggers Library, Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Prizm Projects, Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Miami Dade College Foundation, the Coral Gables Community Foundation and Nite Owl Theater — have demonstrated their commitment to findings new ways to empower artists and connect with audiences during these unprecedented times. 

“With the challenges of the pandemic, we’re seeing that the arts are more essential than ever,” said Victoria Rogers, Knight’s vice president for arts. “Knight’s investments in these Miami arts and cultural organizations build on our vision of a Miami where art is inclusive and accessible to all, even amid a pandemic.”

The ongoing pandemic has challenged artists to re-think the way art is experienced as it has made the opportunities of seeing live performances or walking through museums difficult. But Miami artists have found opportunity in these unprecedented times to re-create new experiences to connect with audiences.

“Arts organizations have not only had to pivot in how they produce and promote their work, but they’ve also incorporated new strategies to increase their reach during a time of physical distancing and beyond,” said Priya Sircar, Knight’s  arts program director. “Our investments recognize the incredible work these organizations do and accelerate their ability to expand programming, incorporate digital strategies, and in some cases hire new personnel to help increase audience engagement.”

The organizations and projects receiving funding are: 

  • Third Horizon ($750,000): ($750,000): To support operations and a digital strategy to grow from an acclaimed film festival and arts collective to a primary source for developing Caribbean and Caribbean-American filmmakers in the U.S. The grant encompasses a five-year plan of support for core staffing, a new artist residency that will commission and develop works by at least seven Miami filmmakers per cohort and the expansion of the organization’s online programming.
  • Miami City Ballet ($250,000): To support MCB’s innovative outdoor production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” in December. During the hybrid performance — which will take place in Doral Downtown Park (Miami) from December 18-31 — audiences will be safely seated in physically distanced “pods”, while all health protocols, such as face masks, will be enforced. Knight’s investment will allow for the acquisition of an LED modular backdrop that will serve as the set for the ballet and where videos will be projected during the performance. Additionally, the funds will allow for video editing, promotional materials and a custom-designed digital storyboard used for production. The first performance will be a free rendition for first responders and essential workers.
  • Bookleggers Library ($250,000): To support the digital expansion and post-COVID adaptation of this donations-based library in Miami. The support will expand the library’s operations to include new online programming and will reimagine in-person programming throughout Miami-Dade and support core staffing. Currently, the library serves a growing audience with a mission of increasing general interest and access to literature. Bookleggers’ staff and leadership reflect the multicultural community of Miami. Likewise, the vast majority of projects Bookleggers supports are driven by women, people of color or both.
  • Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami ($250,000): To allow the museum to hire curatorial and communications staff to work on the production of global art that connects with the local community. The Curator will oversee the museum’s artistic vision and produce new content around exhibitions and the museum’s permanent collection. The Director of Communications will implement comprehensive digital outreach strategies to Miami’s diverse community, work on increasing audiences and ensure ADA accessibility. Both positions will compliment the museum’s vision of making contemporary art accessible to diverse audiences, especially underserved populations.
  • Prizm Projects ($200,000): To present year-long arts programming focused on the African diaspora through exhibitions, public talks and digital platforms. Knight’s support will allow the arts organization to develop an online platform, which kicked off with the virtual Prizm Arts Fair this month. In addition, the investment will allow Prizm to showcase digital and in-person exhibitions and to hire an operations manager.
  • Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Inc. ($150,000): To allow ICA Miami to reach new online audiences with digital artworks by Miami artists starting in 2021. ICA Miami will use the grant to commission an  ongoing series of digital works by Miami artists and to create new programs, culminating in a presentation at the museum. The museum is renowned for supporting the work of important international artists at crucial stages in their careers, and for its commitment to accessibility and innovation. This new support increases audience access to new works via digital means.
  • Miami Dade College Foundation ($150,000): To support the digital transformation of the Miami Book Fair through virtual programming and the development of a new online streaming platform. For 36 years, the Miami Book Fair has drawn tens of thousands of visitors and promoted interest in literature. The Miami staple was faced with a challenge this year due to the pandemic. The investment allowed for the development of the fair’s response to physical distancing — the Miami Book Fair Online. The new online streaming platform, which launched Nov. 15, is integrated to the Book Fair’s new website and includes pre-recorded author presentations, performances, conversations, live author events, Q&A sessions, education and entertainment material for children. Additionally, the funding has been used for marketing for the Miami Book Fair Online platform to reach existing and potential audiences, nationally and internationally. It will also assist with the virtual production of three new and existing programs: the National Book Awards Program, Here in Florida and the 2020 Poetry program.
  • Nite Owl Theater ($124,800): To create a unique drive-in theater experience in downtown Miami. Knight’s support will allow the organization, launched through a Knight Arts Challenge in 2015, to purchase state of the art equipment and transition the theater from 35mm to theatrical quality digital cinema projection. The new technology will allow Nite Owl to host drive-in theater experiences during a 4-week film series, providing an opportunity for Miamians to safely enjoy a visit to the movies during the pandemic.
“Places” by Miami City Ballet
  • Miami City Ballet ($67,500): To support the commission of two digital dance works at Miami City Ballet. The funds assist with space rental, outfitting, production expenses and video production associated with the works. One of the commissions is “Places”, a remotely choreographed piece that was streamed virtually. The aim of the performances is to reach new audiences via virtual platforms during a time of physical distancing.    
  • Coral Gables Community Foundation ($35,000): To support Illuminate Coral Gables, a tech-enabled public art exhibit in downtown Coral Gables scheduled for February 2021. The free exhibition will safely engage Miami communities with digital art and sculptures presented in public spaces in Coral Gables. Knight’s investment will go toward artists’ honoraria, artwork fabrication, installation costs and production expenses. This is a pilot program intended  to launch Illuminate Coral Gables as an annual event.

Knight funds artists and arts organizations that create, present and provide access to artistic excellence and inspire engagement. The investments range across genres and focus on authenticity and inclusion, development of talent and transformation through innovation and technology.

“Time and time again throughout the pandemic, we have seen how artists and arts institutions use technology to build a bridge between their works and their audience,” said Chris Barr, Knight’s director of arts and technology innovation. “Many of these investments by Knight in Miami focus on supporting organizations and individuals that are using new and emerging technologies and platforms to connect with people when it is needed most.”

Last week, Knight announced the first-round winners of the Knight New Work 2020 open call. Eighteen Miami-based artists were awarded $10,000 each to create new performing arts works that reimagine how the performing arts are created and experienced during COVID-19 and beyond. Knight also announced the 2020 Knight Arts Champions, a group of community leaders who directed an additional $10,000 each to local artists and organizations of their choice.

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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

Image top of “Places” by Miami City Ballet.