Knight Blog

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

Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia: Now accepting applications

Sept. 17, 2012, 11:40 a.m., Posted by Valerie Nahmad Schimel


Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, street crowd. Photo by George Feder.

Today marks the year-three launch of the Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia, and we’re ready to hear your best ideas to engage and enrich the city’s vibrant arts scene. Applications are now being accepted right here  through Oct. 15. We believe the arts can engage and enrich communities and that your ideas can make an impact. That’s why the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing $9 million in innovative arts ideas. To date, 71 ideas have been awarded $5.4 million.What can these ideas look like? The possibilities are endless, and no idea is too large or too small. There are only three rules for the challenge:

1.    Your idea must be about the arts.

2.   Your project must take place in or benefit Philadelphia.

3.   You must find funding to match Knight’s commitment, within a year.

Over the course of the next four weeks, we’ll be counting down to the deadline, answering your questions through a town hall meeting and live web chat, and sharing the stories of previous Knight Arts Challenge winners to get you inspired. We hope you’ll take advantage and follow along right here.

Mark these on your calendar:

#DetroitShowcase: Innovators show off tech for engagement projects

Sept. 17, 2012, 5:32 a.m., Posted by Rishi Jaitly

Recently at Knight Foundation, we partnered with Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement to host a TED-style learning event that gave Detroit - and the country's - leading thinkers on civic engagement a chance to share their insights. 

During the "Civic Showcase and Learning: New Approaches to Community Engagement," the participants shared ways they using social media and digital tools to mobilize citizens, fundraise for non-profits, gamify the urban planning processes, recognize unsung heroes, follow vacant property auctions, vote in the upcoming elections and more.

Sound exciting? Well, it was!

The result? A morning full of inspiration and learning in the intimate, elegant space that is the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Music Box.


If you’re craving a detailed summary of the day's learnings, stay tuned to Knight Blog for a full report on the conference that we will release in a few weeks with our partners at the Center for Michigan.

In the meantime, have a firsthand look at all the work of our compelling speakers, many of whom are supported by Knight:

The five best - and worst - moments from 1,000 Random Acts of Culture™

Sept. 14, 2012, 10:03 a.m., Posted by Dennis Scholl

For the past two years two years, we’ve been hiding baritones in shoe departments, and rolling xylophones down supermarket aisles, surprising people across the country with Random Acts of Culture™.

It all started as an experiment. With audiences for traditional performances declining, at Knight Foundation we were looking for a way to remind people of how important the classical arts are to their lives.

About the same time, a friend sent me a video from a market in Seville, Spain, where a guy selling ham behind a counter bursts into an aria at the top of his lungs. The audience was captivated as six people came out of the crowd to join him. I must have played it a thousand times as I thought, we need to recreate moments like these across the U.S.  by bringing classical performers into people’s everyday lives.

At first, we weren’t exactly sure how to go about it, to make sure it was more of a bold surprise than the pleasant background music you expect at the mall on a given Saturday.

With a little trepidation, we did our first one by putting a quartet in the middle of Miami’s County Hall. When we saw a man walking by, waving his hands as if playing the conductor, we knew we were on to something.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot through trial – and a few errors. As we celebrate our benchmark 1,000th performance, we wanted to share the best and worst moments of Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture™ program.

Best: The Messiah goes viral: The biggest hit was pulling off a surprise performance in Philadelphia at a Macy’s. Each Saturday, people gather there to hear the world’s largest pipe organ. But they didn’t expect more than 600 choristers to start singing Handel’s Messiah. There were goosebumps and tears. The video went viral, with now close to 8 million views on YouTube, and thousands of comments like this one: “Sheer delight, I wanted to forget my broken hip and dance.”

Worst: Copy cat creates havoc: After that Philadelphia performance was viewed around the world, we were inundated with calls from people wanting to do Random Acts in their communities. Copy cats sprung up everywhere. In Sacramento, Calif., a group tried to pull off a rendition of Handel’s Messiah at the mall food court. When throngs of people showed up, and concerns grew that the floor would collapse, someone called the fire marshal and the mall was evacuated.

Best: Afro-Cuban meets Beethoven: To celebrate the 1,000th Random Act, we’ve been putting on large-scale performances in four cities, including Miami. There, we knew we wanted an iconic venue, so we chose the palm treed pedestrian mall of Lincoln Road. Conductor Sam Hyken, in partnership with the Arsht Center, adapted Beethoven’s Ode to Joy into several formats, starting with jazz, then gospel. When the drums heated up into an Afro-Cuban version, the crowd ate it up. Heyken made this 19th century piece music feel like a hometown favorite.