Knight Arts Miami Celebration

Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen delivered the following remarks at a celebration of the arts in Miami at the Pérez Art Museum Miami on Dec. 3, 2018. At the event, Ibargüen announced a $37 million investment from Knight in the city’s arts ecosystem. 

Thank you, Victoria, and congratulations to our New Work Miami winners.

I am thrilled to be here.

Tonight is about art and about art and culture as the bond that builds community.

Tonight is also about Knight Foundation’s continued commitment to the arts in Miami and our belief that art and culture build community. That’s not just something I know in my bones to be true. It’s a conviction confirmed by our grant making experience, by research and by extensive Gallup polling.

It’s also a conviction shared by others in this room tonight, and I am proud to welcome all of you and to single out a handful of extraordinary examples:

  • Darlene & Jorge Pérez
  • Irma & Norman Braman
  • Rosa & Carlos de la Cruz
  • Mera & Don Rubell
  • Debra & Dennis Scholl
  • Debi Hoffman
  • Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber

All of them and many others of you are builders of community, people who share a vision of a place that offers opportunity and gives hope; the Miami of our imagination.

When someone years from now asks how we succeeded in our quest to lift the soul and bind community in Miami, I hope you’ll point to many things you and we have done together. Art things. Surprising things. Diverse, creative and amazing things. Authentically Miami things.

And by “we” I really do mean all of us. So many people are part of this movement, people who make real the Miami of our dreams.

We call them Knight Arts Champions.

They are from different parts of our diverse arts community in South Florida. Some are artists; all of them support the arts. Each of these 21 champions of the arts will have the privilege of directing $10,000 in grants to someone or some organization that makes art and they think deserves recognition.

Victoria, please join me to announce the Knight Arts Champions and the artists or arts organizations they’ve chosen:


  • Joseph Adler, producing artistic director, GableStage
    • Recipient: Arts for Learning
    • Arts for Learning is a leading source in Miami for arts integrated programming that connects arts to other academic subjects.
  • Jose Elias, founding member, Spam All-Stars and the Cortadito Trio
    • Recipient: Community Arts and Culture
    • The Home of Afro Roots World Music Festival, Community Arts and Culture educates individuals of all ages and backgrounds about arts and culture through workshops, lectures and artistic performances.
  • Eric Fliss, managing director, South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center
    • Recipients: Youth Ballet and the Carbonell Awards
    • Miami Youth Ballet supports the development of young artists by providing training, mentorship and opportunities for them to present their work to the community.
    • The Carbonell Awards acknowledge excellent theater in South Florida and provides scholarships for students in the tri-county area to study visual arts, performing arts, and journalism.
  • Howard Herring, president and CEO, New World Symphony
    • Recipient: O, Miami
    • If you’ve had a random encounter with poetry you can thank O, Miami, a small but mighty crew, that democratizes access to literature, by producing residencies, an annual poetry festival, a publishing imprint, and other community-building programming.
  • Sam Hyken, CEO, co-founder, Nu-Deco Ensemble, a chamber orchestra for the 21st Century
    • Recipient: Afrobeta
    • The first group to perform with NuDeco, Afrobeta is the musical duo created by Miami locals, Smurphio and Cuci Amador.
  • Maggie Pelleyá, manager, WDNA-FM Classical Music Station
    • Recipient: Jazz Education Community Coalition
    • Jazz Education Community Coalition provides workshops and performing opportunities to young musicians interested in jazz performance.
  • Rosie Gordon-Wallace, founder and curator, Diaspora Vibes Cultural Arts Incubator
    • Recipients: Edge Zones and The Peter London Global Dance Company
    • Edge Zones is a forum for contemporary art and cultural exchange dedicated to strengthening the art environments of Miami and the Caribbean.
    • The Peter London Global Dance Company trains and educates local dancers and presents new work by Peter London and local choreographers.

Organization patrons

  • Ximena Caminos, curator and artist director, The Underline, formerly Faena Arts
    • Recipient: The Friends of the Underline
    • The Underline will transform the land below Miami’s Metrorail into a 10-mile linear park, urban trail and art destination.
  • Debi Hoffman, community leader and founder, Funding Arts Network
    • Recipient: Funding Arts Network
    • Never doubt the power or determination of a group of women. Established as Fifty over Fifty, and now known as FAN, Funding Arts Network has awarded $4 million in grants to visual and performing arts in Miami-Dade County.
  • Mera and Don Rubell, contemporary art collectors
    • Recipient: Linda Mangual, Miami-Dade County Public Schools arts educator
    • Linda Mangual is an arts educator for Miami-Dade County Public Schools and works as the Lead Museum Educator for the Division of Academics, Visual and Performing Arts.
  • Debi Wechsler, trustee, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami
    • Recipient: The Friends of The Underline
    • More art for the Underline! The Underline will transform the land below Miami’s Metrorail into a 10-mile linear park, urban trail and art destination.


  • Francie Bishop Good, artist and art collector, founder, FAB (Funding Arts Broward)
    • Recipient: Young At Art Museum
    • Young At Art Museum is an arts-based learning facility in Broward County that provides artistic, interactive experiences for all ages.
  • Adler Guerrier, multidisciplinary artist
    • Recipient: Ena Marrero, installation artist
    • Ena Marrero is a Cuban-born sculpture and installation artist based in Miami.
  • Tom Healy, poet and former chair, Fulbright Scholarship programs
    • Recipient: Florida Freedom Writers
    • Florida Freedom Writers teach creative writing to Miami-Dade high school students.

As an aside, when Tom called Miami-Dade teacher Princess Simonette, the founder of Freedom Writers, to tell her the good news, a student answered the telephone. Tom said he was calling to offer $10,000 to the program. The student, without skipping a beat, turned away from the phone and said, “Ms Simonette, we have a prank caller on the line.” Tom got her to the phone and teacher put him on speakerphone. When he repeated the news, the class went wild. Subsequently, Tom was so inspired the reaction, the work and the participants that he matched Knight’s money, dollar for dollar, with his own.

  • Carl Juste, Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami Herald photo journalist
    • Recipients: Little Haiti Book Festival Fair and Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator
    • The art of the Haitian diaspora comes to life through the Haitian authors, panels, workshops and performances presented at the Little Haiti Book Festival.
    • Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator supports emerging artists from the Latin and Caribbean Diasporas.
  • Carmen Pelaez, writer and actor
    • Recipient: Miami New Drama
    • Miami New Drama produces and presents world-class theater- original plays, musicals, classics, and world premieres for Miami’s unique multicultural community including.
  • Serge Toussaint, muralist and sign artist
    • Recipient: Nancy St. Leger
    • Artist Nancy St. Leger is a dancer, choreographer, and arts educator who performs Haitian dance traditions and rhythm.

Gallerists are often not sufficiently respect for their work in building an arts community. So, we’re delighted that our final three Knight Arts Champions are gallerists.


  • Nina Johnson, director, Nina Johnson Gallery
    • Recipient: Nicolas Lobo
    • Nicolas Lobo is a Miami-based artist who produces sculptures, installations, videos, performances, and works on paper.
  • Fred Snitzer, owner, Fredric Snitzer Gallery
    • Recipient: The New World School of the Arts
    • Fredric Snitzer Scholarship Endowment supports the next generation of emerging artists coming through the New World School of the Arts.
  • Anthony Spinello, curator and producer, Spinello Projects
    • Recipients: Octavia Yearwood and Diana Larrea
    • Octavia Yearwood is an arts educator, motivational speaker, choreographer, and entrepreneur based in Miami.
    • Diana Larrea is a Miami based photographer known for her active role in the documentation of the Miami street art scene.

Congratulations to all of our Knight Arts Champions and grant recipients.

Thank you, Victoria

—– * —–

For more than a decade, we’ve worked to make art general in Miami. Early on, we adopted a very simple, strategic approach: We decided to be an important and encouraging funder of major arts institutions while being the major funder of arts opportunities for everyone. Those grants would be bumpered on all sides by the geography of local community that is a hallmark of Knight Foundation funding.

That combination of institutional and grassroots arts funding, intensified by very local focus, has proven successful both here and in Detroit. We are also applying it in St. Paul and in Akron.

But Miami was first and is the most evolved of our arts programs, and we’ve decided it’s now time to add to the mix and include some of the middle-sized arts organizations that have grown strong during the last ten years and which we believe are poised to leap forward.

In that spirit of growth and optimism, I’d like to announce that Knight Foundation will invest an additional $37M in the arts in Miami.

This investment will include institutions of higher learning and presenting organizations, artist residencies, dance, film, music, poetry, visual arts, theater, public art and, of course, a continuation of the Knight Arts Challenge.

Here are the recipients:


Miami Music Project: $750,000

To provide classical music training to Miami-Dade students, expanding access to affordable music education.Anna Klimala-Pietraszko, Executive Director.

Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent. 

University of Miami – Frost School of Music: $2.25 million

To digitize the future Knight Recital Hall. This grant will incorporate latest technology into the design and construction of Knight Hall, to enable the presentation of high-quality music, film and events using digital technology, very much in the spirit of the soundscape wall at New World Symphony, but in the center of University of Miami’s campus.Shelly Berg, Dean.

New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy: $2.5 million

To commission new works that continue to use technology to engage audiences; and help orchestras better reflect their communities by promoting diversity and inclusion in its advanced training programs. Edward Shumsky, Chairman of the Board and Howard Herring, President and CEO.

Artists Residencies

Any community that wants to be a center for the creation of art has to learn to provide space and support for artists to work. It’s not rocket science. In a young and growing community like ours, that’s often not at the top of the priority list. But if you’re serious about building a sustainable community of artists, it’s essential.

We’ve found several organizations that are addressing this, providing space and programs for local and out of town artists to produce their art. We are pleased to join in support of their varied approaches to arts residencies:

ArtCenter/South Florida: $500,000

Arts Center will develop a cinematic arts residency program, functioning as an incubator for Miami filmmakers creating micro-budget narrative feature films. Kim Kovel, Board Chair and Dennis Scholl, CEO.

The Fountainhead Residency and Studios: $250,000

To support their excellent residency program providing artists from all over live/work space in Miami. Kathryn Mikesell, Founder and Executive Director.

Locust Projects: $1 million

To provide artists the time, space, and resources necessary to experiment and push their practice, as well as further strengthen the lab as a place for people to experience the wonder of just made art. Debra Scholl, Chairperson and Lorie Mertes, Director.

Rubell Family Collection (soon to be known as the Rubell Museum): $500,000

To support one of America’s best curatorial training programs including internships and artist residencies. Don and Mera Rubell, and Juan Valadez, Director are here, as are other members of the Rubell family Jason, Michelle and Samuel Rubell.

In addition to these four programs, we’ll also reserve $750,000 for additional artist residency opportunities that we expect will arise over the next period of time.


Miami City Ballet: $3 million

Part of the funds will be for direct support of the company in recognition of committed, new leadership that emphasizes first-class operations, artistic experimentation and diversity at one of the country’s leading ballet companies. A portion of the grant will be used as a challenge match to assist in their fund-raising.Kristi Jernigan, Chairman and Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, Executive Director.


Borscht Film: $1.25 million

To promote independent filmmakers in Miami, elevating fresh and diverse voices and connecting filmmakers to the bigger world of film. As an example, over the last eight years, 17 Borscht films were accepted at the Sundance Film Festival and the organization played a role in bringing to Miami the making of the Oscar-winning film,Moonlight. Lucas Levya, Director.

Miami International Film Festival: $750,000

Supporting our premier film festival by sponsoring three competitive selection award programs, including the covetedMade in MIAaward.Jaie Laplante, Executive Director.

O, Cinema: $1.5 million

To create South Florida’s first comprehensive independent film center offering multiple screens, as well as training and editing facilities.Vivian Marthell and Kareem Tabsch, Co-directors.

Presenting Organizations

Arsht Center for the Performing Arts: $1 million

To fund a dollar-for-dollar match of contributions to a new endowment fund created by the Arsht Center’s board, spurring new funding to support the institution’s long-term financial stability.  Ira Hall, Chair, Board of Directors.

Miami Light Project: $750,000

To support the organization as a key cultural incubator during a transition to a new permanent space. Beth Boone, Artistic and Executive Director.

Florida International University: $2 million

To establish CasaCuba, the university’s new home for the study and scholarship of Cuban affairs and culture. FIU President Dr Mark Rosenberg, is with us tonight, as is Casa Cuba’s executive director, Maria Carla Chicuén and Board Chair Agustín Arellano, Sr.


Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs/Coconut Grove Playhouse: $2 million

To support the Cultural Affairs Department’s plan to restore the Coconut Grove Playhouse as a regional theater and the new home of Gables Stage. Michael Spring, Director. Joe Adler, artistic director, Gables Stage.

Miami New Drama: $750,000

To elevate and sustain the production of original, critically-acclaimed theater in Miami.David Scharlin, Chair of Board of Directors and Michel Hausman, Executive Director.

Visual Arts

Bass Museum: $1.25 million

To support the commission and exhibition of new works of contemporary art, allowing artists to experiment and expand their practice to reach diverse audiences online and on-site.George Lindemann, Board chair, Silvia Karman Cubiñá, Executive Director/Chief Curator.

DASH/New World School of the Arts:  $1 million 

In equal partnership with Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, to provide travel scholarships for exceptionally talented students at DASH and The New World School of the Arts, giving them the opportunity to experience first-hand other cities and some of world’s greatest art collections.Jeffrey Hodgson, Provost and CEO.

Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA Miami): $2 million

To expand the institute’s Art + Research Center, dedicated to increasing contemporary art literacy and critical analysis, through public events and online education under the leadership of their artistic director, the amazing Alex Gartenfeld. Irma Braman, Board Chair, Norman Braman, Founding Member.

Pérez Art Museum Miami: $3 million

$2 million to leverage the museum’s technological capacity to provide engaging arts experiences on-site and on-line. One million dollars of this grant will be used to match contributions to PAMM’s fund for the purchase of art by African American and contemporary African artists.Franklin Sirmans, Executive Director, Greg Ferrero, Board President and Jorge Perez.


O, Miami @ the Betsy: $1.25 million

As a personal aside, O, Miami began with a phone call to Scott Cunningham.I called and asked “If I can get you some money, could you invent and run a poetry festival?” He took the idea and Knight’s support and created the most interesting poetry program in the country. We all wanted to make it sustainable and by supporting a partnership between O, Miami and the Writer’s Room at the Betsy on South Beach, we will do just that.Scott Cunningham, Director and Deborah Plutzik Briggs, and Zachary Plutzik, from The Betsy Hotel.

Public Art

The Friends of the Underline: $500,000

To engage people with the arts in unexpected places by activating portions of the Underline through the installation of art. Debi Wechsler, Chair, Underline Art Committee.

Knight Arts Challenges

In addition, we have allocated $7 million to continue the Knight Arts Challenge. Our intent is to run an open challenge every other year. On the odd year, we will run a New Works challenge aimed at a specific aspect of art creation, just as we did this year.

Accordingly, the next Knight Arts Challenge will be an open challenge and will take place in Spring 2019. 

That’s our list!

—– * —–

At the end of this round of grants, Knight Foundation will have invested more than $165M in art and culture in Miami over 15 years. We can all see the impact. We can all feel the change.

It should not go without notice that this kind of extraordinary investment would not happen without the support of Knight’s board of trustees, two of whose members, Sue Kronick and Ray Rodriguez are here tonight. And it should also not go without notice that this could not happen without the leadership of our brilliant Victoria Rogers.

Finally, I’d like to recognize the most passionate advocate of the arts that I know, my wife, Susana Ibargüen.

I hope you understand why I’m so excited about what we’re doing here…why we’ve dropped poems from planes and brought music outside …. why we support great painting and dance, writing and sculpting and performance of all sorts … and why we want artists and arts organizations to be able to use every tool – craft and digital – to reach people where they are, with beautiful art and challenging art.

Our goal, again, is to make art general in South Florida.

Many of you know that I developed that phrase, “making art general,” from the last paragraph of James Joyce’s novella, “The Dead.” He wrote, in part:

“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the bog of Allen and, farther away, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. ….His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

Think what a beautiful Miami we will have when art will fall on anyone.

So, for tonight, and with apologies to Mr Joyce, let’s adapt that passage to read:

Yes, the newspapers were right: art was general all over Miami. It was falling softly upon the Biscayne Shore and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark and motionless Everglades. … His soul swooned slowly as he heard music and art and culture falling faintly through the universe and faintly touching, moving all the living and the dead.”


Now, let’s be Miami and party on the terrace!

Thank you and good night!