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Foundation Gives $20 Million to 3 Miami Institutions

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 7, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

The starkest measure of Miami-Dade County's growth as a center for the arts is evident in the raw numbers.

A quarter-century ago the county was a languorous cultural swamp sustaining barely 100 nonprofit arts organizations. Now, inspired in part by the annual Art Basel Miami Beach festival, Miami-Dade is a pulsating community of about 1,000 arts groups, from grass-roots collectives operating out of urban garages to the gleaming new $491 million performing arts center in downtown Miami.

Propelled by hundreds of millions of dollars in government grants and private donations, the burgeoning arts scene has in turn spurred a surge of capital development projects; several major cultural buildings are either under construction or already completed.

On Wednesday the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Miami organization that focuses on journalism and community building, added its philanthropic heft to the county's cultural development. The foundation said it was giving a total of $20 million in endowment grants to three arts institutions and holding a $20 million contest for projects that would advance the arts in South Florida.

Alberto Ibargüen, president and chief executive of the Knight Foundation, said the convergence of cultural development projects and soaring arts philanthropy inspired the organization to jump in.

"This was a key moment for us," he said in an interview in the foundation's offices overlooking Biscayne Bay. "As the Knight Foundation is charged with the betterment of communities, we should be a part of this underlying trend."

Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Department, said the Knight endowments would serve as a "big morale booster" for those in the arts. "It also sends a message to the private sector that investments of this level are good investments and the returns to the community are strong," he added.

The foundation is giving $10 million to the Miami Art Museum to endow an education program that aims to bring every fifth-grade student in the county's public school system to the museum each year.

"The word 'every' means something," Terence Riley, the museum's director, said in an interview. "It means it will be part of the shared experience. It means that as young adults they will have a common memory."

The gift, which Mr. Riley called "catalytic," comes at a watershed moment for the museum, which recently introduced designs for a new $220 million building by Biscayne Bay. The museum is to anchor a major urban development project, Museum Park, which will also include a new center for the Miami Science Museum.

The foundation also dedicated $5 million to support up to three exhibitions a year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. "The emphasis is on emerging and experimental projects," Bonnie Clearwater, the museum's executive director and chief curator, said in an interview. "It's an area that's difficult to get funding for. Most artists we show are not well known."

The grant, Ms. Clearwater said, "gives us the ability to take risks and be innovative in our programming." The museum is also in the middle of a $17 million expansion that will triple its exhibition space.

The Knight Foundation has earmarked another $5 million endowment for the New World Symphony, the respected training orchestra based in Miami Beach, to help develop its use of Internet2, a powerful broadband network. The symphony has been using the technology to connect artists and audiences around the world through image and sound.

Howard Herring, the symphony's president and chief executive, said it also plans to use the money to develop multimedia technology for its new performance space, which was designed by Frank Gehry and is now under construction. In addition, Mr. Herring said, the symphony will apply part of the gift to the development of a virtual archive of lessons, master classes, panel discussions, lectures and performances.

The balance of the Knight contribution to the arts — $20 million — will finance what the foundation is calling a "community challenge."

"Because we are looking for big, exciting and new ideas, we have made the process as easy and open as possible," Mr. Ibargüen said. The contest has three rules, the foundation said: The ideas must be "about art," the projects must be set in South Florida, and the applicants must have matching funds from another source.

By Kirk Semple
For The New York Times

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