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

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    Conducted by James Gaffigan, the New World Symphony delivers a memorable performance

    Feb. 8, 2016, 2:16 p.m., Posted by Sebastian Spreng

    Above: The New World Symphony.

    There are a number of reasons to suggest that the New World Symphony’s Jan. 30 concert in Miami, with James Gaffigan conducting and Jeffrey Kahane on the piano, was perhaps the best of the season. Though it wasn’t perfect, the hits far outnumbered the misses. Of the latter, there were so few that they are not worth mentioning. But what does need to be mentioned is, first, that pure music was made–music in capital letters, almost palpable in an electric atmosphere. Secondly, the program offered an excellent mix: a piece by the great César Franck, nowadays an almost forgotten composer; one of Mozart’s sublime piano concertos, a perfect tribute to his 260th birthday; and a magnificent Richard Strauss tone poem that is also one of the Bavarian composer’s most popular, thanks to its use in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

    When the New World Symphony is in top shape, it proves that the vigor of youth is a composer’s best ally, capable of instilling new life into centuries-old work. It also showed Gaffigan’s skill, as he was clearly the driving force behind an outstanding concert.

    The evening commenced with a brief, seldom-performed tone poem that served as an apt appetizer for the spectacular one that would follow in the second half of the concert. In barely 15 minutes, Franck’s “The Accursed Huntsman” (based on a ballad by German poet Gottfried August Bürger) sketched the phantasmagoric world of Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” with nods to Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Säens. The work also foreshadows the interlude of Giacomo Puccini’s first opera, “Le Villi,” which he premiered the following year. The risky, brass-dominated beginning was executed with exemplary clarity and splendid support from the strings. Gaffigan’s vehemence added a welcome romantic touch to the powerful crescendo that describes the hunter’s mad ride and encounter with supernatural forces. It is a work that makes great demands on an orchestra, and the New World Symphony passed the test with flying colors, displaying the virtues of every instrument section, along with an impressive degree of self-assurance in expressing a dark romanticism that sounded more German than French.

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    Media Innovation

    Maker kit program turns libraries into places for content creation, not just consumption

    Feb. 8, 2016, 11:13 a.m., Posted by Victoria Rakowski

    Above: Maker kits being delivered to Illinois State Library.

    Victoria Rakowski is a public librarian and co-founder of Make it @ Your Library.

    Librarianship is a funny profession–the day is often a mixture of hokey jokes from people who haven’t been in a library in years, and strategizing ways to implement robotics and computer coding into programs for everybody from preschoolers to seniors. When people see what libraries actually get up to these days, they’re almost always surprised. So many people in America depend on their libraries to help them forward when it comes to technology, and lots of libraries have answered that call with aplomb, learning as they go.

    Make it @ Your Library was founded in 2012 as part of an Institute for Museum and Library Services Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant, and our original intent was to help get all libraries up to speed on the concept of makerspaces in the library–or, rather, DIY culture and content creation in the library, versus content consumption. While libraries bring a great deal of technology to their communities, there was no denying the gap in access that exists all over our home state of Illinois: Many rural libraries just aren’t on the same financial playing field as suburban Chicago libraries. We originally began with the simple intention of helping libraries, no matter their budget and ability, bring makerspaces and DIY concepts into their communities. Our mission morphed a bit when we were awarded a Knight Prototype Fund grant in January 2015.

    With Knight’s backing, Make it @ Your Library has created Maker Kits that are largely technology-based, and partnered with the Illinois State Library to circulate those kits throughout the state. The kits include everything from engineering toys to 3-D printers, and have been in constant circulation throughout Illinois since November 2015. While more detailed analysis is in the works, “the kits are very popular and fly out the door to another library as soon as they are returned,” according to Kathleen Bloomberg, associate director library operations. This project has been an amazing way to put technology into the hands of librarians who have less to work with, and enabled them to take those possibilities to their patrons through programming and open access.

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  • Communities

    Second Black Tech Week spotlights Miami’s position at the intersection of diversity and innovation

    Feb. 8, 2016, 9 a.m., Posted by Fernando Gonzalez

    February has long been a month of remembrance and celebration of African-American culture. But with Black Tech Week, an event focusing on technology, entrepreneurship and people of color, author and entrepreneur Felecia Hatcher, wants to change the narrative.

    As co-founder of Black Tech Week, she wants a Black History Month 2.0.

    “Since I was a kid, when February comes around, there’s always been this acknowledging of African-American culture and the part it has played in the history of the United States,” she said in a recent interview. “But I’ve always found that we celebrated and acknowledged the same history makers with the same kind of events. The idea of Black History Month 2.0 is to highlight people who have done some amazing things with technology, amazing innovators but also, as we celebrate [them], let’s make sure we are equipping our community with all the tools and resources it needs to be able to not just participate in, but drive the innovation economy.”

    With that in mind, the 2016 Black Tech Week 3-Day Technology Summit, taking place Feb. 17-19, at the Florida International University, Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami, brings together black innovators, entrepreneurs and investors for the second year in row. The event—Knight Foundation is the presenting sponsor—ramps up Feb. 14-16 with activities such as startup boot camps, pitch competitions and seaside yoga sessions, and concludes with a Women’s Innovation Brunch at FIU on Feb. 20.

    The event attracted about 1,000 participants in its first year and Hatcher hopes to double that number this year. Scheduled speakers include Chinedu Echeruo, CEO and founder of; Chris Carthern, senior network engineer for the U.S. Department of Defense; Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline; Maurice Young (Trick Daddy), artist and entrepreneur; Melissa James, president and CEO of The Tech Connection; and Leslie Miley, engineering manager at Twitter.  

    “Black Tech Week, it’s tremendously important,” said Brian Brackeen, founder and CEO of, a Miami-based human analytics company and a sponsor of Black Tech week. “One of the things [Black Tech Week co-founder] Derick [Pearson] talks about is that when he went online to purchase, it was available! That tells you what you need to know. We certainly focus on the community here, in Miami, but in the larger community [this event] is really solving a huge need.”

    The lack of diversity has been a glaring issue in the tech industry, with dismal reports of African-Americans and Latinos making up just 4 percent and 5 percent of the overall tech workforce. Last year, Hatcher hosted a community discussion after a survey at Google revealed that just 2 percent of its workforce is black.

    Knight’s support for Black Tech Week is just one element of the foundation’s investments in helping to diversify the tech community both in South Florida and nationwide. Knight recently announced support for the Miami launch of PowerMoves, a national initiative to expand the number of high-tech companies led by entrepreneurs of color. Knight is also a supporter of CODE2040, a Bay Area nonprofit that promotes professional development for blacks and Latinos in the tech industry; Digital Grass, a business accelerator in South Florida that focuses on closing the diversity gap; and Hatcher’s Code Fever, which works throughout South Florida to teach students and their parents to become creators of technology.

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