Dennis Scholl Takes the Wheel at ArtCenter/South Florida

Dennis and Debra Scholl in front of Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri’s Marawa in their home.
Dennis and Debra Scholl in front of Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri’s Marawa in their home.

The first months of Dennis Scholl’s new job, as president and CEO of ArtCenter/South Florida, have been anything but boring. He began the new position in early September, as Hurricane Irma picked up speed in the Caribbean. “I put up hurricane shutters the first week, pulled hurricane shutters down the second week and the third week I got a budget approved,” he quips.

Multi-tasking comes naturally to the quick-thinking entrepreneur, patron and collector, who previously served as a board member of local and national arts institutions, as well as the vice-president of arts at the John S. and James L. and Knight Foundation. At the Knight Foundation, Scholl disbursed over $200 million to artists around the country. This experience made him the ideal candidate to lead ArtCenter, a visual arts nonprofit that sold one of its landmark properties on South Beach’s Lincoln Road for $88 million in 2014. Today, ArtCenter has the largest cultural endowment of any cultural organization in South Florida.

A longtime resident of Miami, Scholl reminisced about ArtCenter’s inauguration in 1984, in what was then a nearly abandoned stretch of South Beach. “I saw two things that have never left my mind: ballet dancers in the storefront across the street, and ArtCenter artists here in the windows.” He describes the ArtCenter’s opening as “a moment where culture can lead, where the vibrancy of a neighborhood is generated by art and artists.”

In keeping with Schneiderman’s vision to put artists first, Scholl sees ArtCenter’s future as an organization that continues to support artistic production. In addition to maintaining 18 studios and an exhibition space at 924 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, and an additional six studios in downtown Miami, ArtCenter will back the city’s artists’ projects locally and abroad. Recently, ArtCenter provided funding for Miami artist Jillian Mayer’s participation in Prospect4, the New Orleans-wide triennial that opened this November. Starting in January, ArtCenter will partner with the art nonprofit Locust Projects to sponsor a series of talks and studio visits by critics and curators, such as Prospect4’s artistic director Trevor Schoonmaker, the Aspen Art Museum’s director Heidi Zuckerman and New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz.

“It’s vital that we acknowledge that you can lift a neighborhood through culture,” he says. “You have to go where the artists are going, not where they used to be.” He is open to expanding ArtCenter’s reach anywhere within Miami-Dade. But ArtCenter will also take advantage to its own resources in Miami—namely, the city’s unique ecosystem, bordering the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean. “We are at ground zero for climate change in America,” says Scholl, pointing out that ArtCenter has already started an innovative program responding to artists’ interests in environmental study. In 2016, the organization launched ARTSail, a nomadic residency on a boat, in collaboration with the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. To date, the program has hosted artist/researcher Mark Lee Koven, curator Blanca de la Torre and artist Simon Faithfull.

“A nice, quiet cabin in the woods can happen in a lot of places,” says Scholl. “But being in Miami by the water, with the Everglades, to attack that artistically and with resources to do so, is a unique opportunity. I think you’ll be surprised who wants to come and do that.”