Over the past decade or so, Miami’s cultural ecosystem has been changing at unprecedented levels. Due in part to newfound interest in the port city outside of its usual outlets for tourism, and the rising potential in its entrepreneurial, arts, and culture industries, it’s on the map for reasons beyond being a beachside party town. In other words, Miami is at a crossroads, poised to decide what kind of place it wants to be and entities like the Knight Foundation have found the “X” on the spot that marks the treasure the city has been hiding: the arts. Which means the arts–and all that that entails–is ready to bloom.

Self expression is at the root of what defines a culture, and with as varied a cultural identity as Miami owns, having the opportunity to express that identity is important for its evolution and survival. After all, it’s the public space projects, packed entertainment calendars, and colorful public art that brings joy to everyone who visits a city in the first place. It’s what makes us want to come back. Consider it the ink with which an identity is stamped across a city, and what generates hope for new avenues of expression to have a seat at the table in the future.

Photo of Miami New Drama’s production of “One Night in Miami” by American Theatre

For nearly 15 years, the Knight Foundation has invested over $165 million into South Florida’s arts ecosystem through initiatives like the Knight Arts Challenge to boost our evolving creative communities for present and future generations. Think of them as the landscape architects behind our local cultural environment, trimming and sculpting Miami’s creative identity by supporting the cultural institutions, organizations, and artists that make it as vibrant as it is today. Recurring institutions like the Miami Film Festival, New World Symphony, Institute for Contemporary Art, Miami New Drama and O, Cinema Miami that once seemed impossible are now household names thanks to their support.

Photo of YoungArts’ Outside the Box series by Jason Moran

They were there when the arts communities needed them most, and over the first decade of their involvement in Miami, arts attendance increased by 27% in both the city and county, outpacing population growth (16%). Knowing Miami’s reputation as a last-minute, flake-filled city, that’s a huge deal. With that, comes renewed job growth in the arts industries, increased avenues for arts education, and even arts revenue and foundation funding reaching an all-time high. Through their yearly Knight Arts Challenge grants, they see to it that even the most far-fetched ideas can come to fruition and that arts and culture have become part of the fabric of Miami for years to come.

Over the 10+ years that the Knight Foundation has been operating its Miami chapter of the Knight Arts Challenge, nearly 400 organizations received the funding they needed to see their projects come to life. That’s free classical concerts in parks, the support of Miami’s independent film scene, and helping cultural roots in Miami’s most vibrant neighborhoods survive. As they continue to support local art collectives, they are making sure that Miami’s identity makes the full shift from one rooted in transiency and tourism, into the creative metropolis we know it can become.

If you are interested in applying for this year’s Knight Arts Challenge, find out more details about their info sessions here before applications open on June 24th.

Photo of a NWS Wallcast Concert by Miami Herald

Cover photo of Rhythm Foundation’s TransAtlantic Arts Festival, a 2016 Knight Arts Challenge grant-winner.