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Miami, Florida

On the Importance of Feeding a City’s Artistic Ecosystem


How is it that investments in art and culture transform a city? The case of Miami, Florida...

Art is a living entity which, as part of a larger ecosystem, needs feeding. Favorable conditions for art to develop in any city depend, to some large extent, on the spaces for creative practice: workshops, galleries, museums, and so on. One of the cities with the most vibrant artistic lives in the world is Miami, partly due to the influential art fairs (including the most important, Art Basel), and the growing number of artists and galleries who take part in it. For more than a decade this epicenter of art has received private investments from the Knight Foundation to support and develop the artistic scene, a fact which has radically transformed the city.

Miami, and Florida more generally, has been a land of legends going back centuries. A fertile, tropical area, it was featured in the oral traditions of the natives who once inhabited it, including the Tequesta tribe, who referred to it as a legendary and paradisiacal land. There is, of course, a long mythical association with the Fountain of Youth, too. All this exuberance has its metaphorical counterpart, and that’s precisely what drew the Knight Foundation to invest in this paradise of art.

The organization, with roots in the world of journalism, believes deeply in the role of storytelling within community creation. Since 2005, Knight has invested 165 million dollars in the cultural and artistic life of Miami, of which some 37 million have been invested only very recently. It’s capital that’s sure to pay off. Knight also conducted a meticulous study of the city’s artistic development since 2005, and this revealed exactly how such investments have made the city into a space driven by art, one in which communities have been impressively united.

The foundation’s financial commitment resulted in the creation of spaces for innovative artistic ideas, as well as for support for the conditions (in technical and didactic terms) such that those ideas could be carried out.

One of the platforms included in the project, Knight New Work Miami, is an open-call for artistic commissions for innovative projects in the performing arts. Thus far, five theater and dance projects —from emerging and established artists— have received the awards. These capture the spirit of the city through narratives of the community of Miami today, and in the histories of all the groups from the past who’ve made it into one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Such projects not only help to shape the way the outside world perceives the city, but they also affect the way its home community sees itself. In fact, Miami is home to many Miamis.

From a more panoramic point of view, impressive private investment also results in a hopeful example for the world’s other cities. It’s well known that communities need to express themselves to be healthy, and in the cases of urban spaces (with so many communities living together) the issue becomes even more pressing. It’s a way of connecting inhabitants with the place they live, and it’s a way of beautifully defining your own identity.

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