DETROIT – Oct. 9, 2019 – Chosen from hundreds of ideas submitted earlier this year, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has named 36 winners in the 2019 Knight Arts Challenge Detroit. Now in its seventh year, this community-wide Knight Foundation initiative seeks to find and fund the best ideas for engaging and enriching Detroit through the arts. 

Reflecting the quality and range of creative ideas in the city, the 2019 challenge winners represent a broad variety of disciplines, including film, theater, literature and music. 

This year’s winning projects, which will share $1,385,000, seek to:

  • Share Detroit stories – through the creation and display of “freedom quilts” that represent the histories of various neighborhoods; a series of pop-up performances that feature the diversity of Latino culture; and a photography exhibition on local ice fishing culture. 
  • Provide opportunities to grow as artists – by producing a residency program for artists using experimental practices; developing film and video projects in collaboration with Detroit-based, Arab-American creators; and organizing competitions that match youth playwrights and composers with professional mentors.
  • Explore the identities and experiences of Arab Americans in Detroit –  through group exhibitions that explore what it means to be a contemporary Arab artist; and publishing two new graphic novels.

Knight Foundation will celebrate the 2019 challenge winners on Thursday, Oct. 10 at an evening event at the Garden Theater in Detroit. The individuals and organizations behind this year’s winning ideas will join more than 250 previous Detroit winners recognized since the challenge launched in the city in 2013. A full list of the challenge winners is below. 

“We fund the arts because of their unique ability to tell the stories of our communities, connecting people to each other and to place. These Knight Arts Challenge winners put that belief into action in Detroit,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation. “Detroit’s artists and creators play a key role in acknowledging Detroit’s past and shaping its future. We can’t wait to see these winning projects come to fruition, telling Detroit’s stories, connecting residents through shared experiences, and contributing to the vibrancy of a great city.”

The Knight Arts Challenge is just one way that Knight invests in the arts. In 2018, the foundation announced a $20 million investment in Detroit’s arts ecosystem, enabling arts organizations to reimagine their relationships with the community through innovation and experimentation, and helping independent artists and collectives to build capacity. Bringing Knight’s investment in the Detroit arts community to $52 million since 2012, this funding also supported the continuation of the Knight Arts Challenge Detroit.

The Knight Arts Challenge Detroit is open to anyone. Applicants follow only three rules: 1) The idea must be about the arts; 2) The project must take place in or benefit Detroit; 3) The winner must find funds to match Knight’s commitment.

The winners of the 2019 challenge are: 

A. Spencer Barefield Creative Arts Collective ($45,000)
Creative Music at the DIA & Beyond: Celebrating 40 Years of Innovation
A reunion concert series of newly commissioned, world-premiere works of avant garde jazz performances to connect the legacy of the past to the present and future

Amy Sacka ($15,000)
The Pursuit of Ice
An immersive exhibition of photography, housed in a portable ice shanty, that celebrates local ice fishing culture, heritage and traditions and initiates a conversation around the issues of climate change

Andrew Morton ($15,000)
Sofa Stories
A participatory theater experience that will amplify the stories of young Detroiters who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity and resorted to couch-surfing as a means to survive

Carrie Morris Arts Production ($70,000)
The Weight of Air on a Body
A contemporary puppet performance that examines the effects that redlining and disinvestment in Detroit neighborhoods have had on physical, personal and topographical landscapes

<p><em>The Big Easy (2017) Sarah P Duke Gardens of Duke University, Durham, NC. Photo Credit: Bill Lefevre</em></p>
The Big Easy (2017) Sarah P Duke Gardens of Duke University, Durham, NC. Photo Credit: Bill Lefevre

Cinema Detroit ($30,000)
The Ethics and Aesthetics Film Series
A public screening-and-discussion series at Cinema Detroit, in partnership with the Detroit Narrative Agency, that will examine socially relevant films for form, content and technique

Detroit Lit ($15,000)
Hayden’s House
Performance and professional development opportunities for traditional and non-traditional story-makers through a series of salons, workshops and panels

Detroit Theater Organ Society ($5,000)
Silents at the Senate
Audio-visual experiences at the Senate Theater pairing talented organists with silent films to elevate the art of silent film performance and engage Detroiters in this tradition

Erik Paul Howard ($30,000)
The Lowriders: From Detroit to L.A. and Back
A photo documentary project that will show and tell the unique story of the lowrider culture and lifestyle centered in Detroit

The Film Lab ($100,000)
The Film Lab
A two-screen movie theater in Hamtramck, bringing the best in new and classic world cinema to a diverse population to celebrate and cultivate Detroit’s film community

<p><em>Photo from The Lowriders' series. Photo Credit: Erik Paul Howard</em></p>
Photo from The Lowriders’ series. Photo Credit: Erik Paul Howard

Flex + Shylo ($10,000)
Bulk Space Artist Residency
A three-month residency program to provide Detroit-based artists who use experimental practices with studio and exhibition space

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang ($25,000)
“Beyond Vincent Chin: Legacies in Action and Art”
An anthology of essays by Asian American activists and a digital arts archive that enables reflection by Asian American activists, artists and allies on the landmark Vincent Chin case

Highland Park Business Association ($20,000)
All About the Art: Highland Park First Fridays
A sponsored monthly program of curated events to enrich the lives of residents through arts and culture

The Hinterlands ($40,000)
Will You Miss Me?
A touring theater piece and series of participatory public events to trace the ghosts of migration, settlement and assimilation of white Appalachian workers from the south up to Detroit via the Hillbilly Highway

A Host of People ($45,000)
Fire in the Theater!
An original, multimedia, community-sourced theater piece that will take place around (and on top of) a large dinner table, investigating and challenging the freeness of speech

InsideOut Literary Arts ($75,000)
Poetry for the People
Workshops, performances and installations throughout the city designed to demystify the art form, celebrate InsideOut’s 25th anniversary, and engage new audiences in the ways poetry can connect to and enrich their lives

jessica Care moore and Billy Mark ($20,000)

Detroit 1st Annual Solo Theater Festival
Intergenerational space for artists to expand their creativity while offering community a chance to hear these stories, including a performance and master class by solo theater legend Roger Guenveur Smith

Joo Won Park ($5,000)
Magnets and Ghosts
A participatory sound art project to encourage Detroit area residents to find the voices and songs hidden in historical Detroit buildings by using electromagnetic transducers, which are mistakenly known as a type of ghost detector

<p><em>Roscoe Mitchell photo by ©Barbara Barefield; A. Spencer Barefield photo by ©Barbara Barefield with painting "Peacemaker2" by ©Gilda Snowden Estate, LLC; PUBLIQuartet photo by ©Lalanie Foster</em></p>
Roscoe Mitchell photo by ©Barbara Barefield; A. Spencer Barefield photo by ©Barbara Barefield with painting “Peacemaker2” by ©Gilda Snowden Estate, LLC; PUBLIQuartet photo by ©Lalanie Foster

Karilú Alarcón Forshee ($30,000)
La Carpa Theatre
A series of pop-up performances, in the style of Mexican Carpas, around the city that share the diversity of Latino culture and encourage cultural exchange

Kayla Powers ($10,000)
Local Color: Natural Dyes of Detroit
A temporary, outdoor installation of tapestries created by gathering and documenting local/native dye plants, dyeing American grown fibers, and weaving them to merge the natural world with the urban environment

Live Coal Gallery ($35,000)
Aired Out Quilts
The creation of freedom quilts that will be “aired out” and hung at homes to preserve the oral histories of native and long-time Detroiters who have lived in neighborhoods that are distinct, in transition, enduring or on the edge of abandonment

Maamoul Press ($10,000)
Maamoul Press Graphic Novel Publishing Initiative
Publication of two graphic novels by first-time authors, to support a diverse range of creators who are marginalized in comic and printmaking spaces

Malika N. Pryor ($50,000)

To Whom Much Is Given
A public exhibition that weaves together narratives of the lives and histories of two local trailblazers, Josephine Love, founder of Your Heritage House Fine Arts Center for Young People, and Dell Pryor, proprietor of Dell Pryor Gallery

Media City Film Festival ($35,000)
25th Anniversary Media City Film Festival: Detroit
A four-day celebration of world-class moving image art to showcase cutting-edge media arts productions by Detroiters and visiting international artists from 20+ nations

Melinda MeMe / Studio M Detroit ($25,000)
Electric Fruit
An immersive, mobile art installation that is presented in unexpected areas to inspire individuals to learn more about art and design

<p><em>April and Edley Lattimore ice fish on Lake Huron. Photo Credit: Amy Saka</em></p>
April and Edley Lattimore ice fish on Lake Huron. Photo Credit: Amy Saka

Midtown Detroit, Inc. ($100,000)
Celebrating The Detroit Public Library as a Cornerstone of Democracy at DLECTRICITY 2020
Visual and media arts installations created by Detroit-based artists that shine a light on the library’s main branch, other branches, and its new bookmobile

Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit ($57,000)
New Voices Detroit
A juried competition of short, one-act plays or musical compositions by area teens to showcase young playwrights and composers matching finalists with professional playwright or composer mentors

Motor City Theatre Organ Society aka Redford Theatre ($45,000)
Reel to Reel Detroit
New film festivals that inspire viewers and celebrate the creativity, diversity and history of the film medium with guest artists and audience interaction

Naima Shamborguer ($5,000)
Sister Strings: Roots, Voice & Drums
A public rehearsal and masterclass for music students to provide an educational history of the life of string instruments, voice and percussion in the black community from slavery until the present  


20/20 Emerging Artists Fellowship
Financial support and professional mentorship for artists to develop their individual practices, to identify, elevate and promote Detroit-based artistic excellence

Rola Nashef ($125,000)
Public Light Productions
To amplify the stories of Arab Americans, development of a slate of feature films, web series and television pilots in collaboration with Detroit-based, Arab-American writers, filmmakers and artists.

Ronald “QWNTYM” Ford, Jr. ($15,000)
The Funk Lives!
A series of free workshops aimed at Detroit area high schools to cultivate an interest in  Funkateer, Detroit’s own urban dance

<p><em>"Fluid Frontiers" Ephraim Asili film production stills. Courtesy of Oona Mosna / Media City Film Festival</em></p>
“Fluid Frontiers” Ephraim Asili film production stills. Courtesy of Oona Mosna / Media City Film Festival

Room Project ($15,000)
Room Object Volume 1
An anthology of voices that will be written, edited and published by women and non-binary artists in Detroit for local and national distribution

Roula David & Noura Ballout ($40,000)
ARAB: A Real Arab Blueprint
A month-long series of programming and a group exhibition to explore what it means to be a contemporary Arab artist

S.A.Y. Detroit / Capturing Belief ($50,000)
Space Invaders
A mentorship experience for young African-American photographers and established multidisciplinary artists to inspire compositions born from invading the physical and emotional spaces that define the city

Shua Group Arts ($20,000)
Production residency to bring national theater and dance acts to Detroit
A production residency program at Andy, a new arts space in Detroit’s HOPE Village neighborhood, to draw nationally and internationally renowned dance and theater to the city

Sidewalk Detroit ($78,000)
Stick Work in Eliza Howell Park, a land art commission by Patrick Dougherty
A commissioned, large-scale, multi-storied sapling reed sculpture by land artist Patrick Dougherty to create a transformative nature-based art installation in collaboration with local craftspersons in Eliza Howell Park


About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

Image credit (top): Richard Wilson mural. Photo by  1XRun.