By TSAR BLANCHARD Special to South Florida Times

Miami, Fla. – The announcement of 44 winners of the 2019 Knight Arts Challenge Miami, and $1.8 million in grant awards to the South Florida arts community, helped kick off this year’s Art Week in Miami on Monday.

The winners celebration at the Perez Art Museum Miami underscored the James L. Knight Foundation’s $32 million investment in 384 arts ideas since the Arts Challenge’s inception in 2008.

The 2019 projects predominantly explored South Florida artists’ interpretations of environmental preservation and sustainability; representations of South Florida’s diversity; and histories that share the experiences of Miami pioneers, immigrants and women.

The projects varied from breaking social taboos with queer Latin tango performances (Tango Out – CONEXION – Miami’s First International Queer Tango Festival); to Patsy West’s exhibition of the Mikasuki people; to recreating religious Hispanic encounters (Charo Oquet/Orisha: The Lost Saints).

“I hope that one effect the project will have is that a lot of the history that is unknown from Liberty City, people will learn about that history,” said Katja Esson, whose VR interpretation of Liberty City and the housing discrimination that African American people faced, earned a $75,000 grant. “Also an understanding of what happened to a once really thriving African-American neighborhood that was full of culture and economic boom,” Esson said. “What happened to it that there was such a decline.”

On a mission to foster informed and engaged communities and help ensure a healthy democracy, the Knight Foundation – a national foundation with extensive local roots – invests in journalism, the arts, and the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers.

The Knights Arts Challenge is part of a strategy that funds arts organizations of all sizes and types, as well as talented local artists.

In Miami the challenge has inspired thousands to creatively answer one question: “What’s your best idea for arts in South Florida?”

Open to all, from Palm Beach to Monroe counties, its applicants were asked to follow just three rules: 1) The idea must be about the arts; 2) The project must take place in or benefit South Florida; 3) The grant recipient must find funds to match Knight’s commitment within one year.

Artists of color who won the 2019 Knight Arts Challenge and a share of $1.8 million in grant funding:

Fringe Projects ($100,000) “Foresight” – A two-year thematic program and biennial-style exhibition of public art interventions and performances that explore the question, “What might a Caribbean future look like?”

Katja Esson ($75,000) “Liberty City VR: From Roosevelt’s New Deal to the Miami Riots” – An immersive virtual reality experience that takes users through the sights, sounds, triumphs and tragedies of Miami’s legendary Liberty City.

MUCE Educates ($35,000) “MUCE CAMPUS” – A collective of multidisciplinary artists housed under one roof who present cultural offerings, exhibits and festivals at the My Urban Contemporary Experience campus.

Portia Dunkley ($58,000) “Music of the Unsung America: Celebrating African American Composers in the Shadows of History” – A two-day concert-lecture series by a choral and orchestra ensemble of musicians of color that highlights the work of African American composers.

Sweat Records ($75,000) “Sweat Records: Manifesting Community 15 Years On” – An expansion of the record store’s all-ages event programing, an archive of the store’s history, and a block party that engages the community

For a full list of the 2019 Knight Arts Challenge Miami winners, visit