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From making it rain poetry to the ballet: Knight Foundation's Alberto Ibargüen retires

Alberto Ibargüen, the CEO and President of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is retiring after nearly two decades.
Gesi Schilling
Alberto Ibargüen, the CEO and President of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is retiring after nearly two decades.

Alberto Ibargüen watered the ground where art was already sprouting.

It set him apart when he took over the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 18 years ago. He saw art as something that grows from the ground up.

He steered over $200 million from the Knight Foundation’s endowment into art projects in South Florida as its President and CEO. And he wanted to put that money right into the artist’s hands.

Sure, some of it went to big, bold projects — like the Perez Art Museum.

But when he talks about Miami institutions, Ibargüen was thinking about things like Sweat Records. Or the Cosford Theater, or the Miami Film Festival.

So much of the money went to small, edgy art projects — projects that made a big difference.

He made sure the foundation listened to artists. He started the Knight Arts Challenge to fund individual artist ideas.

He trusted O, Miami to start a guerilla arts festival that lasts not a weekend but a month. Not a poet reading from a lectern, but poetry that was printed on biodegradable leaflets and dropped from a helicopter over a music festival.

He made sure money for the arts floated right down into the community he was trying to help grow.

That’s part of the legacy Ibargüen leaves when he retires this year. He’ll stick around until the foundation hires a new leader. That person will have a lot to live up to.

On the April 24 episode of Sundial, Ibargüen writes his first Zip Ode poem on air and shares it with us. He also discusses Miami’s ever-changing art scene — and what he hopes to see next.

On Sundial's previous episode, journalists Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal talked about their journey to research North America's rapidly diminishing bird population, and what we can do to help. They document it in their new book, "A Wing and a Prayer."

Listen to Sundial Monday through Thursday on WLRN, 91.3 FM, live at 1 p.m., rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Missed a show? Find every episode of Sundial on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify.

Stay in touch with us by emailing us at sundial@wlrnnews.org.

Carlos Frías is a bilingual writer, a journalist of more than 25 years and the author of an award-winning memoir published by Simon & Schuster.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.
Elisa Baena is a former associate producer for Sundial.