“A night to celebrate our mission to make art general in Miami"

Alberto Ibarguen
10 min readDec 11, 2017


On Dec. 4, 2017 Knight Foundation celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Knight Arts Challenge in Miami at a ceremony held at the Pérez Art Museum. The below remarks were delivered by Knight President Alberto Ibargüen to commemorate the event and honor the 2017 winners, as well as vital champions of the city’s thriving arts community.

Good evening and welcome to the 10th anniversary of Knight Arts.

Alberto Ibargüen

This is a night to celebrate our mission to make art general in Miami. It’s a mission we haven’t achieved yet — but the fact that 10,000 people RSVP’d to the party tonight at the Knight Plaza is a pretty good indication that we’re on our way.

A decade ago, we began an arts program at Knight Foundation. More than $120 million and thousands of grants later, we are here tonight to celebrate a Miami community event. So, congratulations to all of you in the Miami community on our shared anniversary.

Tonight is about the awards, sure, but it’s also about the transformational impact of the arts in South Florida and celebrating the role each of you continues to play in the evolution of a very unique arts community.

And please don’t think that I’m just saying that to say it. The brilliant promise of democracy combined with communications technology and the arts is that we have the means not only of reaching many more people but of actually engaging them, and having them bring their humanity and collective wisdom to what was once art was for and by elites.

The evolution of an engaged community takes everybody — all of you here, and the thousands more we’ll see tonight. Our challenge is not simply to present art and to make it accessible, but to have our friends and neighbors, our loved ones and strangers, engage with art, be lifted by art, be bound to us and to our place, each in his or her own way.

In a nutshell, Knight Foundation supports informed and engaged communities. We believe, as our founders Jack and Jim Knight believed, that communities in a democracy function best when citizens are well informed and thoroughly engaged.

We also believe — and we have the Gallup polling over three years in 26 cities to back it up — that art and culture bind people to place and to each other. And that’s really important because commitment to place and to others in the place is essential to building a sense of community.

In 2005, there was no arts program at Knight. But art and diversity were and are the underlying themes of the Miami story. We had the film festival, the book festival, amazing private art collections and a couple of years of Art Basel. Since then, we’ve built two concert halls, an opera house, a science museum, three art museums, several private art collection galleries, begun to develop a film scene, grown our music school, maintained a ballet and are on the cusp of reviving live theater.

Those are the best-known parts of the story. Lesser known are the tens of thousands of school kids who visit PAMM and ICA each year. Or the literally hundreds of other acts of culture and art, like:


  • Tarell McCraney, Barry Jenkins and the Academy Award-winning film “Moonlight,” a stunning Miami story.

We set out to make art general in Miami and it’s fair to ask, how general is general? Well, we’ve had more than 12,000 arts proposals and chosen 384 winners in 10 years. Every day, that crowd of 12,000 helps energize and will ultimately transform everything the arts touch in Miami.

The air we breathe and the water we drink is filled with north and south America, newly mixing and clashing at the same time. It is what makes this place thrilling and what makes me wonder, how could anyone not see the centrality of art and culture in such a community?

And as new as all of this is, how could anyone think we’re anywhere near finished? Or that we’ve anywhere near enough art in Miami?

We’re not and we don’t.

And the fact you’re here tonight confirms to me that you agree: we are tenacious and we will continue to go on this long march of cultural change.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time and we’re on it. Knight’s approach to the arts is straightforward: we support key arts institutions, and we are the leading funder of grassroots arts in the communities we work in. Focusing our funding on specific cities allows us to increase critical mass more quickly

This two-pronged approach has worked for us. We want great ideas and we want them rooted in the communities we work in.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of some lines from T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

And after a decade of exploring and experimenting, we find our home in the artists we’ll celebrate tonight. We find our home in art that is genuinely felt, art that is well and expertly executed, and art that is authentic to the place we call Miami.

Why do this? Why spend this precious resource on art and culture? Because we believe in you. And by that, I mean both the people who are getting awards tonight, and everyone in this room.

None of this happens without leadership. Tonight, in addition to announcing the 2017 Knight Arts Challenge winners, we want to honor a new category of heroes that we’re calling Knight Arts Champions.

We’ve selected 25 Miamians who are artists and arts leaders, philanthropists and journalists from a variety of backgrounds. What unites them is their vision, their courage and tenacity in support of arts and their commitment to Miami.

In recognition of their impact on South Florida, we offered each of them the opportunity to designate the recipient of a $10,000 grant to an artist or arts organization of their choice.

They’ve chosen a wonderful range of artists and arts organizations that reflect the vibrancy of this community, and here they are:

SARAH ARISON, President of the Arison Arts Foundation, selected the National Young Arts Foundation, which identifies and nurtures creative young people. It’s a foundation started by her grandparents and arts philanthropists Lin & Ted Arison.

DAVE BARRY, author and hilarious human being, selected photographer Carl Juste and his project Havana/Haiti: Two Cultures, One Community. From his experience as a long-time Miami Herald photographer, Carl is uniquely qualified to explore the differences and commonalities between Haitians and Cubans through vibrant, powerful photography.

JOSE BEDIA, the legendary painter, elected to split his grant. He designated the Haitian Cultural Alliance, which has helped transform its neighborhood creating a gathering place about history and art. He also selected the second half of his grant to recognize and encourage sculptor Yeins Gómez, who only arrived in Miami two years ago but about whom you’ll hear much more.

SHELLY BERG, musician and dean of the Frost School of Music designated his grant to the Donna Shalala Music Reach Program, which every week brings music instruction to over 700 kids in South Florida.

BETH BOONE, Artistic & Executive Director of the Miami Light Project recommended singer Inez Barlatier. There is history to all of these. Inez is the daughter of acclaimed Haitian musician, Jan Sebon.

DEBORAH BRIGGS AND JONATHAN PLUTZIK, the brother and sister dynamic duo who’ve made a mark on Miami Beach culture, she at PACE and he at his hotel, The Betsy, chose The Betsy Community Fund at the Miami Foundation to support arts and culture including: The Betsy Writing Room initiative and LGBTQ programs such as Trans Art.

ANA-MARIE CODINA BARLICK, the CEO of Codina Partners, real estate developers and investors and the former board chair of the Miami City Ballet. Ana chose the Ballet as her beneficiary, continuing a tradition that dates back to her childhood when she first saw the company dance…and in her heart, never left it.

SCOTT CUNNINGHAM, poet and director of O, Miami Poetry Festival suggested Exchange for Change, which changes lives in prisons through poetry.

EDWIDGE DANTICAT, author, chose to split her grant in three to artists that she admires and uplift our community. They are Nancy St Leger Dance Ensemble, filmmaker Dudley Alexis and poet Angie Bell.

MARSHALL DAVIS, Artistic Director of the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, recommended the Center’s Film and Media Arts program, which he has seen empower artistic young people for more than 30 years.

TERESITA FERNANDEZ, brilliant artist, has chosen the Latina Art Fund at PAMM in order to highlight Latinas doing groundbreaking work, in a context of excellence, and give them greater visibility in the media and art museum world.

CARLOS GIMENEZ, as Mayor of Miami-Dade County, oversees the investment of more than $30 million a year in the arts and for that support, he deserves thanks from all of us. Mayor Gimenez has designated two very personal recipients: Guitars over Guns, a local nonprofit that delivers high impact, arts-based mentoring programs to empower at-risk youth, and the Dranoff International 2 Piano Foundation which for 30 years has discovered, developed and presented hundreds of young pianists through their annual competition.

CARL HIAASEN, author, screen writer and grandfather of two kids who love and study arts, chose to honor the schools the kids attend, DASH, The Design and Architecture Senior High and South Miami Middle Community School. These two educational institutions offer art and design curricula complimented by rigorous academics that have impacted thousands of young people in the community over the years.

JAIE LAPLANTE directs the Miami Film Festival and Tower Theater, so I was surprised when he chose two artists who don’t work in film. One is Sekajipo, the hip-hop/spoken word artist representing Smoke Signals Studio, and the other is visual artist and community activist Jonathan de Camps.

LUCAS LEYVA is a filmmaker. He’s also the founder of the Borscht Film Festival which, over the last eight years, has produced 17 films that have been accepted at the Sundance Film Festival. Any of you who know something about Sundance know that is an amazing record. And just last week, Sundance announced it had accepted four films from Borscht, three of them by first time, women filmmakers. His grant will go to Third Horizon Film Festival which uses film to tell Caribbean stories that are such a key part of Miami’s cinematic identity.

LOURDES LOPEZ, the Artistic Director of the Miami City Ballet, designated a grant to the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet. Again, there’s history: Since 1951, they’ve enhanced children’s lives through dance, including, at one time, Lourdes herself, since Thomas Armour was one of her ballet teachers when she was growing up in Miami.

CAMPBELL McGRATH, poet and teacher (and if any of you want a treat, you should hear him read his poem Buffalo, which I did once and it changed my life). His grant goes to O, Miami, which seeks to expose every person in the county to poetry at least once every year during April, which is Poetry Month.

MICHELLE OKA DONER, a legendary, multifaceted artist, whose work inspires public and private spaces. She’s chosen The Wolfsonian, our museum of art and ideas, because she believes they are in a unique position, with their physical records related to the warming of our planet, to address the challenges of the recent change of epochs.

LEYDEN RODRIGUEZ-CASANOVA and FRANCES TROMBLY are artists and founders of Dimensions Variable gallery and concept space. They are fiercely supportive of emerging artists, and have chosen to use their grant to support two wonderful emerging artists, Christina Pettersson and Jamilah Sabur.

RACHELLE SALNAVE is a filmmaker and founder of Black Lounge Cinema. Her designation is O Cinema, because they gave her the courage to continue her pursuit of film as a way of telling the Black experience.

FRANKLIN SIRMANS, Director of this phenomenal house, the wonderful PAMM. He also chose Carl Juste and his project Havana/Haiti: Two Cultures, One Community. He said Carl has a unique ability to capture images that lie at the juncture of art and information.

SEBASTIAN SPRENG, artist and prolific music critic, designated South Florida’s oldest museum, the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami, and whose extensive collection has inspired audiences with art and history for generations.

And, lastly, ANDREW YEOMANSON, musician and head of Spam All Stars, which will play on the plaza this evening. Andrew has also chosen Guitars Over Guns because we should invest now in musicians of tomorrow.

This is an amazing group and I’d like to each of this year’s Knight Arts Champions to please rise and to be recognized.

We didn’t choose a path safely etched on a roadmap when we decided to embark on this journey. Instead, and in keeping with the changing nature of this community, we chose a direction, not a path, guided by a compass, not a map, and chose engagement as our True North.

Our bet is on you. Our bet is that you will invent a better place. Our role is to invest, connect and celebrate the people who are inventing a new Miami. Just as we’re doing tonight.

And I think it’s phenomenal that that we’ve actually begun to believe that art is natural here, that art, in all its diversity and competition and nationalities and in all its forms, Art is general in Miami.



Alberto Ibarguen

President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.