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

Apr 18, 2013

P. Scott Cunningham empowers O, Miami

Posted by laflor

“Democracy runs on empowerment. If a population doesn’t feel empowered, it won’t exercise its rights. Making art makes us feel human, and to feel human is to feel capable of anything.” P. Scott Cunningham, founder of the  O, Miami Poetry Festival.

 The Overtown Youth Center poetry workshop, which was part of O, Miami.

For P. Scott Cunningham, poetry means fun, truth, democracy and empowerment. That's why he wants all of Miami-Dade County to experience the power of poetry to transform and inform humanity.

“I’m always so blown away by the great ideas and initiatives that are created for the festival by total strangers. People as a whole are much more imaginative than we usually give them credit for, and Miami has so many smart, energetic people living here,” said Cunningham, founder of O, Miami Poetry Festival. “Anyone who thinks this is a cultural backwater hasn’t actually engaged the populace.”

Poetry, in many respects, isn't just about poetry. It's about politics, civil engagement and even education. It's a way to access our basic human need to communicate and connect with other humans about important ideas.

“There’s no barrier to participation in poetry. I used to say, 'If you can write, you’re a poet.' But then at our opening event at El Palacio de los Jugos, when we were soliciting poems about Miami from the general public, a woman came up to us who was illiterate but knew tons of poems by heart. One of our volunteers typed one out for her as she dictated it from memory. So I now say, 'If you can speak or write, you’re a poet.'”

With the O, Miami Poetry Festival, Cunningham wants to deliver a poem to every single person living in Miami-Dade County, but he also wants to transform the community into a wily mass of fire-breathing poets. This massive endeavor, which took time, guidance and little nudge to solidify into a bi-annual festival, has thrust Miami into the national literary spotlight.

“It took the pressure of wanting to live up to Knight Foundation’s ideal of 'making art general.' I knew the concept was strong from the beginning, but I didn’t realize how deeply I’d come to believe in it. If this art form—if any art form—is going to thrive, it has to be participatory. For all the talk about the greatness of the 20th century, it was, in a lot of ways, a bad time for art. The rise of the media and mechanical reproduction made art specialized—the province of 'genius'—when what the majority of those “geniuses” were doing was adapting folk traditions that existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Great art comes from gathering. It arises out of cultures that don’t belong to any one person.”

In 10 years, Cunningham hopes that O, Miami will evolve and change into something more and more people can participate in. For now, the people get get their fill of poetry at these and other events scheduled for this weekend.

When: April 18 - 7 p.m. What: Miami Poets Soirée Where: >>> Pinecrest Branch Library, 5835 SW 111 St., Pinecrest Who: Miami Poets, a division of the Florida State Poets Association Join the Miami Poets for an evening to celebrate all things poetic, moderated by poet Tere Starr. Bring your poems to read, or read works by your  favorite poets. We often get philosophical, discuss what poetry means… now and through the ages. And best of all, we share how poetry enhances our lives. Anything goes, so long as poetry is in the equation.

When: April 19 - 6 p.m. What: Big Night in Little Haiti Where: >>> Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59th Terr., Miami Who: Edwidge Danticat, Koralen, Andrea Cotes and more Big Night in Little Haiti, created and presented by Rhythm Foundation, presents a special O, Miami edition, featuring readings and performances by Edwidge Danticat, Emeline Michel, Koralen, DJ Mack,, the North Miami Senior High Marching Band and the winners of the Dis-Moi Dix Mots Poetry Competition.

When: April 20th - 2 p.m. What: Sweatstock Where: >>> Sweat Records 5505 NE 2nd Ave., Miami Who: Otto Von Schirach, ANR, Juan Basshead and many others Miami’s best record store presents Miami's best indie music festival, featuring local food, music, exclusive vinyl releases, and a performance of "Memorized" by artist Andrea Cotes.

When: April 20 - 7:30 p.m. What: New Work Where: >>> New World Center Symphony Hall Who: Poet TBA Ride the cutting edge of contemporary music, video art, dance and spoken word, as MTT leads an evening exclusively dedicated to new work and dynamic young talent.

O, Miami's goal is bring poetry to every resident of Miami-Dade County with scheduled and impromptu events from South Beach to South Miami. For a full-listing of upcoming O, Miami events near you, visit

Back to top