Knight Foundation gives $432,500 to Charlotte arts groups

From unleashing "random acts of culture" to creating a digital library of art works, Charlotte cultural groups will try new ways of reaching people with the help of $432,500 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The grants will go to organizations ranging from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and radio station WDAV-FM to small groups to be picked by the Arts & Science Council.

"All residents can become more engaged in their community through a vibrant arts scene," said Dennis Scholl, foundation vice president/arts, in a statement. The Charlotte grants are part of an eight-city initiative by the foundation, which was established in cities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers, including the Observer.

WDAV will get $55,000 to expand "Concierto," a Spanish-language classical-music program it hopes to syndicate.

"Concierto," general manager Ben Roe said, is the station's answer to the question: "How do we as classical music broadcasters talk to the fastest-growing demographic in America?"

The program, airing Saturdays from 10 p.m. to midnight, is hosted in Spanish but features a range of classical music. Since its launch last October, Roe said, the first ratings reports suggest it has made a significant increase in the station's audience in its time slot. The station's next goal is to expand "Concierto" to four hours and syndicate it to stations in cities with burgeoning Hispanic populations, such as Miami, San Antonio and San Diego.

Roe recalled meeting with Knight Foundation leaders to ask them for money to expand "Concierto." When he said that no other classical station in the United States was producing a program like it, he said, they doubted him. Later, after researching, they acknowledged he was correct.

The foundation's $55,000, added to $50,000 donated by the station's board, will enable WDAV to produce six months' worth of weekly, four-hour programs. The station also will work with stations in other cities to see how it could fit their audiences.

The largest grant - $107,500 - will go to the Bechtler Museum, which will use the money to create a digital image library of its collection. That will help the museum expose the works to the public, educators and scholars, museum president John Boyer said via e-mail.

Producing the online library will be a yearlong project, and "public access will broaden and deepen over time," Boyer said. The artworks will be photographed in high-resolution, and sculptures will be shot from various perspectives. When the photos go online, there will be safeguards to prevent illegal duplication.

The ASC will split its $60,000 for emerging groups among three to five small organizations that "have the potential to... have a greater influence or greater reach" with the help of what for them is a significant dollar amount, president Scott Provancher said. Groups will not apply for money. Instead, the ASC and the Knight Foundation will develop criteria, then tap groups that could use the cash effectively.

This will be separate from the ASC's regular funding programs. The Knight money will not replace or supplement other ASC grants.

Charlotte residents could encounter art when they least expect it under the "random acts of culture" push, also to be administered by the ASC.

People might stumble upon classical musicians at the airport or Government Center, Provancher said. Those who associate culture with having to get dressed up would find there are other ways to enjoy it. "They can take a moment to appreciate it," Provancher said, "and think about the role of the arts in the community."

The ASC expects to enlist Charlotte cultural groups to supply the artists, Provancher said. The surprises should start popping up during the summer.

Beyond that, "We don't want to say too much," Provancher said with a laugh. "Because we want it to be random."