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Front Page » Opinion » Innovative Knight Foundation Arts Funding Will Alter Miami

Innovative Knight Foundation Arts Funding Will Alter Miami

Written by on February 7, 2008

By Michael Lewis
When three weeks ago we asked philanthropists to follow the lead of Adrienne Arsht, who had just given $30 million to steady Miami’s shaky performing arts center, we were hopeful but restrained.

We hoped others would fund arts but never expected anything approaching Ms. Arsht’s generosity and vision.

We shouldn’t have been so moderate. This week the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation doubled Ms. Arsht’s ante, creating a $60 million engine to propel Florida’s arts community forward.

This investment is spectacular in size and even more in vision — using foundation assets to enlarge our cultural base and, by extension, to enhance all of Greater Miami.

The foundation bifurcated $40 million funding over five years, an investment detailed in our news pages. Half will support innovations of three institutions already central to our cultural life. Half will uncover cutting-edge concepts and simultaneously lure equal support from non-traditional arts donors: small and mid-size businesses.

The matching grants will leverage the foundation’s gift by $20 million today and create a donation stream to flow long after the foundation redirects its resources to other projects.

That will achieve a major foundation goal, lasting change, the most exciting element of the extraordinary Knight Arts Partnership.

It’s one thing to give. That’s charity.

It’s far more important to induce others to ensure that organizations will fulfill creative and community-building missions in perpetuity. That’s social entrepreneurship.

Miami is fortunate to be home to the Knight Foundation, the nation’s 21st largest. While its $2.3 billion assets as of Dec. 31, 2006, paled by comparison with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at $33.1 billion and the second-ranked Ford Foundation at $12.2 billion, it’s a true behemoth among the estimated 80,000 US foundations.

The foundation serves cities nationally that were home to Knight chain newspapers, with grants focused on arts, education and journalism. But being home base gives us more opportunity to catch the eyes of those who make $130 million in annual grants. And the new Knight Arts Partnership becomes the foundation’s largest commitment over a specific time for one project.

Unfortunately, this program is finite. Foundation funds will flow over five years — the yearly amount, officials emphasize, resting on how excited they get by grant applications that began this week. The long-term aim is to get the arts organizations to raise their own funds.

To win matching grants, applicants don’t have to say how much they need or fill out complex paperwork. All they must do is excite the foundation with creativity that can make a long-run difference. It’s so open-ended that you wonder why nobody ever thought of making grants this way before Knight did it, first in journalism innovation globally and now in arts innovation in South Florida.

Expect the unexpected from this program.

The foundation couldn’t have initiated this in a better place. South Florida is a frontier. Our minds are not limited by what we did 100 years ago, or what our grandparents told us was the only "real" way.

In business, Miami is an economy of entrepreneurs that grow larger. If in business, why not in the arts?

And so Knight is investing in social engineering, seeking in the arts the kinds of scrambling innovation that has made millionaires of our immigrants.

Our entrepreneurial environment has fueled our economy but — despite nearly $300 million pouring into the arts here in the past year, including the Arsht and Knight gifts — it has largely bypassed the arts.

Unlike industrial cities, we have few huge local corporations to give (we’ll except Carnival Corp., which has just gotten back $10 million committed to the arts center that it promises to use to advance arts). That left it to entrepreneurs, who don’t often target the arts.

Knight expects to reverse that with matching grants. Innovators may find themselves approaching multiple entrepreneurs to collect parts of the match they must accumulate in order to win a grant, creating new monetary pipelines to sustain the arts long after this program ends.

Long-term funding is vital, because our smaller arts groups rely on government aid that may die as the tax cut movement spreads. So Knight’s trailblazing funding should prime the pump to create more donors on progressively larger scales.

We heartily applaud the foundation’s $10 million pledge to the Miami Art Museum and $5 million each to our splendid Museum of Contemporary Art and our national-impact New World Symphony training orchestra, plus an earlier $10 million gift to endow the Knight Concert Hall at the Arsht Center.

But we are even more heartened by $20 million in matching grants that will create a sustainable fund flow over the decades, developing lasting change in our arts community — and by extension, our quality of life. Advertisement