Knight Arts Challenge Winners Show Diversity of Miami

[Photo] Angel Fraser-Logan received a Knight Arts Challenge grant to bring Miami native and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater star Jamar Roberts (seen here in director Robert Battle’s “Awakening”) to mentor South Dade students.- by Paul Kolnik


Perhaps the happiest event of Miami Arts Week for South Floridians is the announcement of the winners of the Knight Arts Challenge, the annual program funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that has done so much to promote and shape culture in South Florida over the past nine years.

This year, the Foundation awarded $2.78 million to 44 projects, announcing them Monday evening in an event at the New World Center on Miami Beach. From projects that connect to Cuba to a gallery in the Everglades, from transforming buildings with public art to a writing program in Opa-locka, the winners are a spectacularly varied group that reflects Miami’s unique community.

“The make-up of our communities is reflected in the grants,” said Victoria Rogers, the Knight Foundation’s vice-president for arts. “It’s a celebration of the incredible diversity of this really rich and special place. Through the arts, we are connected to place and our collective and individual stories are told. Perhaps the most important, empathy can result.”

See a complete list of Knight Arts Challenge winners at

There are some themes in this year’s group. One of them is connecting the Cuba and Cuban-American artists from both sides of the Florida Straits, including an experimental theater project by Alexey Taran, creative writing fellowships with the CINTAS Foundation, and longtime Miami Afro-Cuban dance group IFE-ILE’s festival of Afro-Cuban culture. Celebrating another Caribbean connection, Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste won for a book and exhibit exploring connections between Cuban and Haitian cultures.

Dance is another thread. Winning projects include the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs and the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center’s proposal to engage the community in a visit from the Dance Theater of Harlem; choreographer Marissa Alma Nick’s efforts to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia through dance; and pioneering disabled dance troupe Karen Peterson Dancers’ festival integrating dancers with and without disabilities. Angel Fraser-Logan, owner of longtime dance school Empire Dance Studios, will bring Miami native and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater star Jamar Roberts (whom Logan discovered at Coral Reef High School) to teach and choreograph for South Dade students.

Rogers says any common themes emerge naturally from the applications.

“We select from what is submitted,” Rogers said. “The whole point is for the art to be authentic to place… We look for the best ideas for the arts that are reflective of our city.”

Other proposals are striking for their inventiveness or the unique way they reflect the city. Amir Baradaran received one of the largest grants, $100,000 for a large-scale participatory project that will incorporate artificial intelligence and augmented reality. The largest award, for $300,000, went to Bas Fisher Invitational, a gallery without a physical home that will experiment with new ways to present art in roving locations.

The ArtCenter/South Florida will embed artists in city government to help develop policy, while the Juggerknot Theatre Company will present immersive Miami-centric theater works in motel rooms. Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) will create an interdisciplinary gallery at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Chad Bernstein’s Guitars over Guns, which uses music to mentor middle school students in violence-plagued neighborhoods, was awarded for “Music Is My Weapon,” collaborating with police to turn melted-down bullet casings and guns into musical instruments.

Tarell Alvin McCraney, a MacArthur Genius Award-winning playwright and director — and Miami native who often works in his home town — was one of two winners also named a Knight Arts Champion for his contribution to South Florida culture. (The other is filmmaker Ali Codina.) McCraney was awarded $50,000 to create the 305/One Festival for Miami storytellers and performers.

The winners’ diversity seems particularly striking at a time when post-election politics appears to have intensified divisions over race and culture.

Rogers says the program does not aim to be political, only welcoming.

“We are committed to authenticity and inclusion and that there are multiple voices at the table,” she said. “The way we have set out to make art political in our city, is you try to remove barriers and make it reflective and open.”

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Coral Reef Grad Wins Scholarship

Coral Reef grad wins scholarship for his passion about solving climate change, sea rise

The Coral Reef grad received the maximum $25,000 scholarship.

“He wants to know more, he questions and he’s not really satisfied until he really gets it,” Hemisha Barkow, Montesino’s high school chemistry teacher, said in the video.

Montesino was born in 1998 into a Cuban-American family living in Managua, Nicaragua. At age 2, he and his family moved to the United States. From the time he was very young, Montesino remembers each of his parents saying to him, “Manny I know that you’re capable if you put all of your energy into it.”

“That mentality started to sink in,” Montesino said in the video.

As a Coral Reef student, Montesino was part of the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which provides qualifying students with a pre-university course of studies. At the time of graduation, Manny had taken six IB courses and 10 Advanced Placement courses, and obtained an unweighted grade point average of 4.0.

“In ninth grade, I joined the debate team at my school,” Montesino told the Miami Herald. “Our first paper was on climate change.”

In preparation for the debate, he did extensive research on the topic and quickly realized the severity and importance of it.

“One of my friends started a club in junior year and asked me to speak about climate change,” Montesino said.

Montesino then spoke in front of the school’s Global Issues and Contemporary Community club, focusing his speech on what climate change is and how it affects us all.

“I realized this was something I had to do,” Montesino said. “This was my calling when I realized how little people really knew about climate change.”

Montesino also said “we just have to jump those political hurdles, continue working against the people that perpetuate the idea that climate change is a hoax.”

Even with the threat that climate change poses to the planet, the number of college students pursuing degrees in environmental engineering isn’t very promising, he said.

“Lots of misinformation is causing a lack of opportunity in the field because people aren’t thinking of this field of engineering,” Montesino said.

Now attending MIT, Montesino has chosen to double major in computer science and environmental engineering.

“Environmental science is the science of the future,” Montesino said in the scholarship video.

Many believe that science is yet to be advanced enough to fight climate change, but “these are things we are already familiar with,” he said. “Solar panels, wind turbines — there are other countries which are making their energy 98 percent renewable.”

Montesino suggests that immediate results would come from just taking one step forward, “if you can put solar panels in places like Miami.”

The threat of rising sea levels in low-land areas like Miami is one of the many tasks on his to-do list. “Little by little it’s just getting a little bit warmer, the seas are just getting a little bit higher.”

Montesino said that “having grown up in Miami and loving the city, this is definitely one of my motivators” in studying climate change.

“Is saving the world easy? No, it’s not, but it’s a small price to pay to hopefully make a really big difference for everyone.”

Jacquemin brothers to kick against each other in college football game

Maria and Marc Jacquemin faced a big dilemma as they traveled from Miami to Jackson, Miss., to attend Saturday’s SWAC showdown between Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State: Which team should they root for?

Their sons, Christian and Nico, both former kickers at Coral Reef High, will be on opposite sidelines. Christian, a sophomore, is the kicker and punter for Jackson State. Nico, a freshman, is a kicker at Mississippi Valley State. They will be facing each other for the first time ever in any sport.

The Jacquemins were lifelong soccer players, but both switched to football kicker their senior year at Coral Reef, and both wound up with college scholarships. Rick Comegy, the former Jackson State coach, recruited Christian and then picked up little brother Nico after he took the job at Mississippi Valley State in 2014.

Christian, who is 5-of-7 this season, posted on Twitter: “Get to play against my little brother this week. Would never have thought it would be playing football, but what a blessing it is.”

A group of eight family members and friends will be in the stands, and the women in the group will be wearing t-shirts mother Maria had made. On the back, it has the JSU logo with Christian’s jersey number (39) and the MSV logo with Nico’s number (41). On the front it says: “Bomb Squad.”

So, where did they decide to sit?

“We’re going to sit the first half on the Mississippi Valley State side, and the second half on the Jackson State side,” said Maria Jacquemin. “I am out of my skin excited. We have grandma with us, aunts, cousins. We’ve never, ever seen them play against each other, so it’s really special.”