Let’s call it an all-Miami house party.
For locals, the celebration of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge winners that kicks off Miami Art Week is their best party. It’s the time when the city’s own artistic community gets to feel like the center of the glittering art/celebrity/marketing marathon that blankets Miami but that, even after all these years of Art Baseling, often still seems to treat the artists and arts institutions here as secondary at best.
For the tenth anniversary of the Arts Challenge program, the Knight Foundation moved their regular Monday party from the New World Symphony’s New World Center on Miami Beach to PAMM downtown, and blew it out into a true city-wide get down. Thousands filled the terraces and plazas surrounding PAMM and the Frost Science Museum for bands, DJ’s, projections, poetry, and dancers.
“We haven’t made art general yet,” said Knight president Alberto Ibargüen, quoting the group’s mission/motto. “But we’re on our way.”
The invite-only event for a few hundred inside PAMM was friendly and gleeful, people hugging, chattering, lining up to pose for pictures in a red carpet style set-up with Ibargüen and vice president for the arts Victoria Rogers. They were stars for the night. If not all dressed that way.
“I didn’t know it would be so casual,” said Jennifer Kronenberg, who wore a Hollywood-worthy pleated gold gown to accept the $150,000 award for Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, the new ballet troupe she runs with dancer husband Carlos Guerra, for a two-year residency at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.
Kronenberg spent years as a star of Miami City Ballet, but this night she had a different kind of glow.
“It’s incredible – such an honor,” she said. “And it’s a breath of relief for us. It’ll enable us to program and think ahead.”
As always, the 43 winners, awarded a collective $2.5 million, represented an extraordinary range of ideas, mediums and cultures, from FUNDarte’s “From El Barrio to the Mainstage” project to nurture local theater and dance artists, many of them new immigrants; to photographer Sofia Valiente’s “Foreverglades” photo book and exhibit to tell the history of the Everglades. Themes often emerge in the Arts Challenge winners, and in this year of racial tension, one of them was a focus on black culture, history and experience, from the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance’s investigation of black Cuban artist Jose Aponte, executed in 1812; to Arts for Learning’s Wall(In), which will help young Liberty City artists study a former segregation wall in their neighborhood.
New this year were 25 arts champions, civic and arts leaders who who got to select an artist or organization to receive $10,000. Two lucky and deserving folks got picked twice. Columnist and Miami Herald legend Carl Hiaasen and PAMM director Franklin Sirmans both chose photographer Carl Juste for his Havana, Haiti: Two Cultures, One Community project. And Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Andrew Yeomanson, the mastermind DJ Spam of the Spam All Stars, picked Guitars Over Guns, Chad Bernstein’s inspiring music mentoring program.
The mix of people was startling, always a hallmark of a good gathering. There was famous humorist Dave Barry (formerly of the Herald, still of Miami) and a drag queen resplendent in red sequins and flowing wig. New World Symphony executive director Howard Herring sat next to khaki-clad rangers from Biscayne National Park, which got $9,000 to celebrate the park’s 50th anniversary – and who took the importance of the arts very seriously.
“Yellowstone didn’t exist until artists and photographers brought their paintings and photos to Congress,” said ranger Gary Brenen.
Writer Brett Sokol (whose occasional New York Times pieces always cause a stir), whose Letter16 Press got $43,000 to publish books of Andy Sweet’s photos of elderly Jewish retirees in pre-glam, 70’s South Beach, congratulated Michel Hausmann, the artistic director of Miami New Drama, whose $150,000 grant to turn Rakontur Productions’ cult documentary Cocaine Cowboys into a new play was one of the night’s more buzzed about projects.
“You know people are going to go crazy over this,” Sokol told the exuberant Hausmann, a relative newcomer to Miami.
On Monday night, it felt good to go crazy.