Knight Foundation names 62 finalists in 2019 Knight Arts Challenge Detroit – Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation names 62 finalists in 2019 Knight Arts Challenge Detroit


  • Nat Synowiec, Senior Account Executive, Van Dyke Horn Public Relations, 313-872-2202, [email protected]
  • Lauren Dickinson, communications officer, Knight Foundation, (305) 908-2694, [email protected]

DETROIT – Aug. 21, 2019 – The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today named 62 Knight Arts Challenge Detroit finalists — all vying for a share of $2 million to bring their ideas to life. The finalists propose a range of artistic projects that tell unique Detroit stories, spotlight the city’s history and culture, and connect people to their community and to each other. 

The initiative is now in its seventh year of funding ideas that engage and enrich Detroit through the arts. It has supported 276 projects since its introduction in 2013. 

“Detroit honors its rich history through the arts with a passion that inspires and enlightens, while simultaneously innovating in ways that are shaping contemporary culture,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation. “Each year, the hundreds of applications we receive become more ambitious and more reflective of the rich diversity of Detroit. This is the home of an artistic community that never sits still.”

The Knight Arts Challenge aims to help individual artists and arts organizations—across Akron, Miami and Detroit—bring to life authentic works and experiences that capture the spirit of each city. The challenge is now in its seventh year in Detroit; it has supported 276 arts ideas since its inception in 2013.

A complete list of the 2019 finalists is below. Winning projects will be announced at a celebration set for Thursday, October 10 at the Garden Theater. 

Applicants to the Knight Arts Challenge Detroit followed just three rules: 1) the idea must be about the arts; 2) the project must take place in or benefit Detroit; and 3) the grant recipient must find funds to match Knight’s commitment. Applicants proposed their idea in a user-friendly, 150-word description.

Knight Arts Challenge Detroit 2019 Finalists

A Host of People
Fire in the Theater!
An original, multimedia, community-sourced theater piece that will take place around (and on top of) a large dinner table and investigate and challenge the freeness of speech

A. Spencer Barefield Creative Arts Collective
Creative Music at the DIA & Beyond: Celebrating 40 Years of Innovation
A reunion concert series of newly commissioned world-premiere works to connect the legacy of the past to the present and beyond

Amy Sacka
The Pursuit of Ice
An immersive exhibition of photography, housed in a portable ice shanty, that celebrates local ice fishing culture, heritage and traditions and initiates a conversation around the issues of climate change

Andrew Morton

Sofa Stories
A participatory theatre experience that will amplify the stories of young Detroiters who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity and resorted to couch-surfing as a means to survive

The historic Redford Theatre built in 1928. Photo Credit: Sebastian Sullen Photography.

Carrie Morris Arts Production
The Weight of Air on a Body
A contemporary puppet performance that examines the effects that redlining and disinvestment in Detroit neighborhoods have had on physical, personal and topographical landscapes

Chamber Music Society of Detroit
An extraordinary shared musical experience in Detroit’s community-focused neighborhood library branches that will bring together inspired musicians and curious listeners of all ages

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Bird Lives! The Centennial Celebration of Charles Parker, Jr.  (August 29, 1920 – May 12, 1955)
A multifaceted centennial celebration of “Yardbird,” Charles Parker, Jr., to demonstrate Detroit’s centrality in the development of bebop and to showcase his continuous influence on the arts in Detroit

Cinema Detroit
The Ethics and Aesthetics Film Series
A public screening-and-discussion series at Cinema Detroit, in partnership with the Detroit Narrative Agency, that will examine socially relevant films for form, content and technique

Crossroad Collective
Freedom School
Performances and workshops to illuminate the power of drumming and communal-singing by equipping adults and teens for a life that demands creativity in the face of injustice

Dan Austin
Detroit Soul Oral History Project
A series of podcasts that preserve the stories and music—and legacies—of singers and musicians from Detroit’s soul scene of the 1960s and ’70s

Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings
A multi-disciplinary performance, in collaboration with the Arab American National Museum, to connect the power of chamber music, spoken word and visual art to share stories around immigration and identity in local communities

Detroit Free Press
“American Dreaming”
Participatory documentary film screenings to connect metro Detroiters with an unheralded art form – automotive concept design – and its historical, cultural and artistic importance to the Motor City

Detroit Lit
Hayden’s House
Performance and professional development opportunities for traditional and non-traditional story makers through a series of salons, workshops and panels

Detroit Theater Organ Society
Silents at the Senate
Audio-visual experiences at the Senate Theater pairing talented organists with silent films to elevate the art of silent film performance and engage Detroiters in this tradition

Dolores Slowinski
Pioneer Women in the Detroit Black Art Community
An oral art history project to record and preserve the stories of three African American, female gallerists in Detroit: Dell Pryor, Cledie Taylor and Shirley Woodson Reid

Youth performing at an MC Olympics competition at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo Credit: Doug Coombe.

Erik Paul Howard
The Lowriders: From Detroit to L.A. and Back
A photo documentary project that will show and tell the unique story of the lowrider culture and lifestyle centered in Detroit

A thought-provoking and breathtakingly beautiful book, including newly-commissioned work by leading Detroit artists, that will present Detroit art to new audiences by inviting a diverse group of writers to create short, illustrated essays and publish the results

Flex + Shylo
Bulk Space Artist Residency
A three-month residency program to provide Detroit-based artists who use experimental practices with studio and exhibition space

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
“Beyond Vincent Chin: Legacies in Action and Art”
An anthology of essays by Asian American activists that enables reflection by Asian American activists, artists and allies on the landmark Vincent Chin case

Heritage Works
Detroit – Dakar Digital
A creative cultural exchange that  physically and digitally convenes a young artist ensemble with the young artists of Bakalama Danse from Dakar, Senegal

Karilú Alarcón Forshee
La Carpa Theatre
A series of pop-up performances around the city that share the diversity of Latino culture and encourage cultural exchange

Global Detroit
Common Bond: Muslin Ladies Social Club
An inclusive creative space for immigrant and non-immigrant women in Banglatown, Brightmoor, and Southwest to gather, collaborate and create through the textured lens of fabric art

Highland Park Business Association
All About the Art: Highland Park First Fridays
A sponsored monthly program of curated events to enrich the lives of residents by integrating arts and culture in community revitalization

InsideOut Literary Arts
Poetry for the People
Workshops, performances and installations throughout the city designed to demystify the art form, celebrate Inside Out’s 25th anniversary, and engage new audiences in the ways poetry can connect to and enrich their lives

Jessica Care Moore and Billy Mark
Detroit 1st Annual Solo Theater Festival
Intergenerational space for artists to expand their creativity while offering community a chance to hear these stories, including a performance and master class by solo theater legend Roger Guenveur Smith

Julie Schenkelberg
Project Inter-healing Structures
Large-scale, temporary, site-specific installations where net-like structures will incorporate discarded industrial materials and domestic objects, to bring healing to three abandoned spaces in Detroit  

Joo Won Park
Magnets and Ghosts
A participatory sound art project to encourage Detroit area residents to find the voices and songs hidden in historical Detroit buildings by using electromagnetic transducers, which are mistakenly known as a type of ghost detector

Kayla Powers
Local Color: Natural Dyes of Detroit
A temporary, outdoor installation of tapestries created by gathering and documenting local/native dye plants, dyeing American grown fibers, and weaving them to merge the natural world with the urban environment

Mickalene Thomas, Portrait of Din #4, 2016 on wood panel using rhinestones, glitter, acrylic and oil. Photo Courtesy: Mickalene Thomas.

Live Coal Gallery
Aired Out Quilts
The creation of freedom quilts that will be “aired out” and hung at homes to preserve the oral histories of native and long-time Detroiters who have lived in neighborhoods that are either distinct, in transition, enduring or on the edge of abandonment

Maamoul Press
Maamoul Press Graphic Novel Publishing Initiative
Publication of two graphic novels by first-time authors, to support a diverse range of creators who are marginalized in comic and printmaking spaces

Malika N. Pryor
To Whom Much Is Given
A memorable public exhibition that weaves together narratives of the lives and histories of two local trailblazers, Josephine Love, founder of Your Heritage House Fine Arts Center for Young People, and Dell Pryor, proprietor of Dell Pryor Gallery

Maria Costa/Oro Entertainment
Shades of Machos
A new musical comedy from Kresge fellow Maria Costa, a groundbreaking writer, performing artist and comedic dramatist, to discuss the expression of femininity and masculinity amongst various cultures groups

Detail from Sacred Heart Installation at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Photo Credit: Jim Haefner.

Media City Film Festival
25th Anniversary Media City Film Festival: Detroit
A four-day celebration of world-class moving image art to showcase cutting-edge media arts productions by Detroiters and visiting international artists from 20+ nations

Melinda MeMe / Studio M Detroit
Electric Fruit
An immersive, mobile art installation that is presented in unexpected areas to inspire individuals to learn more about art and design

Michael M. Jackman
The Graystone Project: The art and culture of Detroit punk’s most memorable stage
A concert and an exhibition of relics from a major venue on Michigan Avenue to share and preserve the history of the city’s punk scene

Midtown Detroit, Inc.
Celebrating The Detroit Public Library as a Cornerstone of Democracy at DLECTRICITY 2020
Visual and media arts installations created by Detroit-based artists that shine a light on the library’s main branch, six other branches, and its new bookmobile

Mike Dutkewych
One Record
Oral history interviews with the artists, musicians and songwriters who created the of-lesser-known Detroit music from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s

Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit
New Voices Detroit
A juried competition of short one-act plays or musical compositions by area teens to showcase youth playwrights and composers matching finalists with professional playwright or composer mentors

“A Difficult Pair” exhibition, 2018. PLAYGROUND DETROIT. Photo Credit: PD Rearick.

Mothlight Microcinema (co-director: Julia Yezbick)
“Scratching the Surface” film series
A series of screening events to showcase the work of seminal experimental filmmakers. 

Motor City Theatre Organ Society aka Redford Theatre
Reel to Reel Detroit
New film festivals that inspire viewers and celebrate the creativity, diversity, and history of the film medium with guest artists and audience interaction

Motown Historical Museum, Inc.
Motown Museum Dancing in the Street Placemaking Project
A public outdoor space where the community will come together to enjoy a calendar of events bringing new life and opportunities to a truly historic cultural icon in the City of Detroit

Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)
Mickalene Thomas: From Where We Resist
To explore Detroit as a lyrical city while bridging the gap between visual arts and poetry with new works of art by the contemporary African-American visual artist Mickalene Thomas

Naima Shamborguer
Sister Strings: Roots, Voice & Drums
A public rehearsal and masterclass for music students to provide an educational history of the life of string instruments, voice and percussion in the black community from slavery until present  

One Single Rose
Poetic Theater on the Fly
Physical and virtual spoken word theatrical performances to meet Detroit area and worldwide audiences where they live, work or play

Opera MODO

The George Shirley Diversify Opera Resident Artist Program
Training, performance opportunities, career planning/development and stipends to support and showcase three local minority opera singers  

20/20 Emerging Artists Fellowship
Financial awards and professional mentorship to artists to develop their individual practices, to identify, elevate and promote Detroit-based artistic excellence

Poetic Societies
A bilingual Afro/Persian futuristic R&B vinyl album co-created by artists Salakastar and Ava Ansari to celebrate women of color’s suppressed narratives of self, land and belonging

Copies of Essay’d Vol 2 (2017). Photo Credit: Matthew Piper.

A free community park that repurposes an acre lot in Core City and hosts contemporary public sculpture and design

Reg Flowers
Detroit Paradise 1955 – A 360 ° Interactive Theater Extravaganza
A 360-degree interactive theater event that invites audiences back in time to the summer of 1955, following the Emmett Till murder and on the brink of the Alabama bus boycott, to a famous Detroit nightclub catering to African American clientele

Rola Nashef
Public Light Productions
Development of a slate of feature films, web-series and television pilots in collaboration with Detroit-based Arab-American writers, filmmakers and artists to amplify the stories of Arab-Americans

Ronald “QWNTYM” Ford Jr
The Funk Lives!
A series of free workshops aimed at Detroit area high schools to cultivate an interest in urban dance

Room Project
Room Object Volume 1
An anthology of voices that will be written, edited and published by women and non-binary artists in Detroit that will be distributed locally and nationally

Roula David & Noura Ballout
ARAB: A Real Arab Blueprint
A month-long series of programming opportunities and a group exhibition to explore what it means to be a contemporary Arab artist

Shua Group Arts
Production residency to bring national theatre and dance acts to Detroit
A production residency program at Andy, a new arts space in Detroit’s HOPE Village neighborhood, to draw nationally and internationally renowned dance and theatre to the city

Sidewalk Detroit
Stick Work in Eliza Howell Park, a land art commission by Patrick Dougherty
A commissioned, large-scale, multi-storied sapling reed sculpture by the internationally renowned land art artist Patrick Dougherty to create a transformative nature-based art installation for Eliza Howell Park

Full Volume Detroit
An arts hub for adults, youth, residents and visitors to participate in printing, writing and performing in an Eastern Market neighborhood space devoted to the written, spoken and printed word

S.A.Y. Detroit / Capturing Belief
Space Invaders
A mentorship experience for young African-American photographers from underserved communities and established multidisciplinary artists to inspire compositions born from invading the physical and emotional spaces that define the city  

The Film Lab
The Film Lab
A two-screen movie theater in Hamtramck, bringing the best in new and classic world cinema to a diverse population to celebrate and cultivate Detroit’s film community

The Hinterlands
Will You Miss Me?
A touring theatre piece and participatory public events to trace the ghosts of migration, settlement and assimilation of white Appalachian workers from the south up to Detroit via the Hillbilly Highway  

The Pewabic Society
Pewabic: A Century of Detroit Tile
To shape the visual identity of Detroit by photographing examples from early 1900s arts and crafts masterpieces to today’s award-winning contemporary art murals

Vanguard Community Development Corporation
Art on the Grand
Commissions of culturally significant public art installations by renowned Detroit artists to construct displays, a solar energy windmill and art murals on railroad viaducts

Wayne State University
Detroit Book Festival
A weekend-long festival and celebration of books, reading, writing and authors, gathering Detroit’s rich but disparate literary culture

For updates, follow #knightarts and @knightfdn on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.


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 credit (top): Locally foraged plants used to dye natural fibers. Photo by Kayla Powers.