The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Dec 27, 2010

Top 10 Cultural Events in Knight Cities for 2010

Posted by Dennis Scholl

By Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation VP Arts/Miami Program Director

I love a good top ten list, and this year has been a year of transformative experiences for the Knight Arts program. So I thought I’d take a minute and list some of the amazing cultural events that took place this year in the eight cities where Knight Arts concentrates funding. Akron. One of the best photography shows of the year took place in Akron. Mitchell Kahan and the Akron Art Museum exhibited the photographs of Andrew Moore in a show called Detroit Disassembled. The works portray a post-apocalyptic world of abandoned Detroit.  It was disquieting and disturbing, and I found myself shivering in front of more than one of the photos of abandoned, burned-out buildings, many with nature slowly beginning to reclaim them them back to the land—moss and mushrooms overtaking the classrooms and factories that were Detroit. The catalogue, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal selection, has an equal impact: Detroit Disassembled by Andrew Moore (Damani/Akron Art Museum, $50)

Charlotte. When the Random Acts of Culture program was just a gleam in our eye, the first folks to raise their hands and say "count us in" were our friends at the Arts & Sciences Council in Charlotte. Ably helmed by the creative and thoughtful Scott Provancher, the Charlotte council has led us with the most diverse programming of Random Acts—opera, modern dance, tango. You name it—they have done it.  Not all Random Acts have to be big, noisy events. Check out this elegant quiet performance by the North Carolina Dance Theatre in the main concourse of the Charlotte Airport.

Detroit. My most profound artistic moment of the year came from Detroit, but took place in Miami at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts: Maestro Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Rachmaninoff's 2nd on Valentine's Day. I had never understood how powerful an orchestra could be before being consumed by the wall of sound the orchestra brought to us that day.  My colleague, Stuart Kennedy, and I agreed that this was an epiphany moment for both of us. We hope the DSO resolves its differences soon and gets back on stage.

Macon. Seldom in grant making do you get to draw a straight line between a grant you made and a positive result, but our grant that allowed the young, scrappy Macon Film Festival to attend the International Film Festival Summit resulted in its winning an award for Best Program. Nice job guys! I can't wait to get back to Macon for the festival.

Miami. I've been preaching the mantra that the future for arts presenters is to let audiences curate their own experience. Never was that approach more evident than in the six, 30-minute presentations by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Miami during Art Basel week. The place where the audience typically sits had been turned in a 30-foot high sculpture of white boxes, exercise balls and other flotsam and jetsam by Miami's Daniel Arsham.  Spectators proceeded to the stage where they were free to move around three areas where the dancers, dressed in costumes designed by Robert Rauschenberg, performed. The dancers moved between three stages, with two to six dancers per stage. Tired of the first area? Move to the second. Stand as close to the edge of the dance floor as you like, hear the dancers' exertion, see the sheen of their sweat. This is no "I dance, you sit still and watch for two hours from 30 rows away" performance … instead the dancers' opportunity to move was also made available to the audience. Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation's president and CEO, has been telling me for years how special the troupe is (I think he went to all six shows over three nights!). Seeing the awestruck look on the faces of the audience members was confirmation of the transformational nature of the experience.

Philadelphia. My Philly highlight has to be the 1,752 applicants to the first year of the Knight Arts Challenge in Philadelphia, a new Knight record. Even Mayor  Nutter gave us a shout out. Spurred on by a major social media outreach effort, the creatives of the city really stepped up. We've read all the ideas and there are some great ones—stay tuned in mid-January for the finalists announcement at

San Jose. The Zero1 Biennial is a festival that merges technology and art. The festival also has an increasing focus on art that encourages social action, a movement I see more and more of in today's art world. I saw zip lines, indoor drive-ins, a street festival and a community completely engaged with the arts. The scope, quality and scale of this event continue to grow. Keep an eye on Joel Slayton, as he takes this game changing arts event to new heights.

Saint Paul. My big discovery this year in Saint Paul was the Community Supported Art program by Springboard for the Arts. Led by the brilliant Laura Zabel, CSA is modeled after the community supported agriculture movement, but instead of a box of beets, kale and corn, you get a box of art objects made by local artists in a limited edition. The first set of 50 shares had over 250 subscribers and has captivated the Saint Paul community. Check out a recent piece on the movement here.  And yes, Knight fans, we are definitely taking this one on the road to the other resident communities. Stay tuned for our CSA launch this fall.

That's eight but I promised you ten..

Of course, one had to be living on Mars to not feel the impact of the Random Act of Culture by our partner, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, at Macy's in the Wanamaker Building. 650 choral singers singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, accompanied by the largest pipe organ in the world, 20,000+ pipes!  When have you ever seen a classical music moment out poll "OK Go" on You Tube?  The reactions from people worldwide can be summed up in one word—joyful. Somehow this simple gesture struck a chord in so many people. It triggered hundreds of spontaneous cultural moments across the country, thousands of e-mails. It reaffirms what we've been saying about the classics—the symphony, the opera, the ballet. People still love these genres, we just need to find a way to reintroduce them into their busy lives. Random Acts of Culture is our modest effort to integrate these art forms into the fiber of a community. I have never been at the center of a truly viral experience before, and I have to say it has been a wild ride—exhilarating, terrifying at times, but in the end, joyful. Stay tuned as the national press isn't done with this one yet.

Finally, as I look back on the first year of the Knight Foundation's national arts program, I am awed by the commitment by so many of you to the arts. You get up every day and fight the good fight with passion and tenacity, always looking for the transformative experience that the arts can bring to a community. I want to especially thank Knight's vice president/communities Trabian Shorters and the Knight program directors for going on the journey with me this year. In the new year, we will continue to work together and search for what it is in the arts that makes each of our Knight communities special.

To our readers out there, over 500,000 of you have visited so far this year. Please drop us a line and let us know what your transformative artistic experiences were this year.

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