In coming weeks, hundreds of singers, dancers – even roller skaters in Viking helmets – will surprise crowds in four cities across the United States. The pop up performances are all part of celebrating the 1,000th (yep, 1,000th!) Random Act of Culture™, where Knight Foundation brings classical performers out of the symphony halls and into the streets and our everyday lives. Knight’s program will culminate in these four special events across the country, taking place now through mid-September. (Update: See the first of the four, which took place in San Jose, Calif. Aug. 6, in the video above!)
We talked with Dennis Scholl, VP/arts and creator of Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture™, about what’s in store.
KF: Tell us a little about these upcoming celebration performances.
DS: I can’t! Seriously, we want to surprise everybody. But here’s what I can say: If you’re in San Jose, Detroit, Philadelphia or Miami, be on the look out over the next six weeks for a special surprise. Each of these performances is very unique to the city where it will take place. And we’re filming, so you’ll be able to see the performances at randomactsofculture.org. What’s so great about this program is that the experience lives on through the videos.
KF: Where did you come up with the ideas for the four performances?
DS: We’ve been working with cultural organizations in eight cities where Knight invests to produce the Random Acts over the past two years. Since they know their communities best, we asked them for their ideas for doing a blowout spectacle to celebrate the 1,000th Random Act. Ideas from these four cultural groups – Symphony Silicon Valley, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Sphinx in Detroit and the Opera Company of Philadelphia - rose to the top.
KF: Why did Knight create this program?
DS: Knight Foundation’s mission is to create informed and engaged communities, and we do that in part by weaving the arts into people’s everyday lives, seeking to make art general in communities. Seeing the tango at the airport, or opera at the farmers market strikes a deep chord in people. It reminds them of the important role that the classics and culture play in our lives. The crowd takes pictures and videos, shares them, and for just a few minutes, they are part of an exciting, collective experience that makes their community a more vibrant place to live.
KF: Where have you done Random Acts of Culture™?
DS: Just about anywhere crowds form in our eight participating cities, which include Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose, St. Paul, Macon, Detroit, Akron and Charlotte. We’ve done Random Acts at the shoe department at Macy’s, at farmers markets, aboard trains, at airports, at a restaurant in Detroit called the Rice Bowl, the Cherry Blossom festival in Macon and more.
KF: Where did you do the first ever Random Act of Culture™?
DS: Miami’s Government Center. We weren’t sure it would work, but a few minutes in, we saw a random passerby join in by waving his hands as if conducting the quartet. That’s when it clicked. Since then, tens of millions of people have seen our Random Acts of Culture videos on the web.
KF: What’s been the program’s biggest success?
DS: One of the most exciting parts is that the program has been able to introduce the local cultural groups, and their performers, to their communities in new ways. They formed new relationships, and a nice side effect is that the program has helped with fundraising and friendraising.
KF: What’s next for Random Acts?
DS: Our goal was to provide the innovative seed capital, to get these kind of pop up performances going in the communities where Knight Foundation invests. We set out to do 1,000, and we did it faster than we had imagined thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of our great local partners. And now some of our local partners will continue doing them on their own. Additionally, we’ve helped stoke a groundswell of support for these performances all over the world. For us at Knight Foundation, our arts program will continue to bring the arts into people’s neighborhoods. One of our next projects started at the Detroit Institute of Arts. t’s called Inside Out, and it brings replicas of artistic masterpieces out of museums and into the streets, and engages the community with walking tours and more. Just like Random Acts of Culture™, we hope to bring it to the communities where we invest across the United States.
Enjoy videos of Random Acts of Culture™ at randomactsofculture.org. Follow @knightfdn and @knightarts and #randomactsofculture on Twitter.