Oolite CEO Dennis Scholl leaving post to focus on creating his own art


A large part of Dennis Scholl’s success as an arts leader, collector, documentary filmmaker and every one of his endeavors from attorney to entrepreneur is that when he commits to something, he does just that — commit.

For the past six years, he has been devoted to Oolite Arts as president and CEO of the Miami-based, nonprofit artist support organization. Prior to that, from 2009 to 2015, he was vice president for arts with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Now, after years of being a supporter of artists and leaving the art-making to artists, Scholl says it is time to leave his position with Oolite and turn his attention to his own creative practice.

“I was a patron and a collector and a fan,” says Scholl. (For context, in 44 years of collecting, he’s amassed nearly 2,000 works and continues to purchase art.)

He made his first film in 2009, the 6-minute short “Sunday’s Best,” a documentary that highlighted the African-American custom of wearing extraordinary hats to church services. He co-directed it with two other filmmakers, Marlon Johnson and Chad Tingle, and said he experienced what having his own creative practice was like.

“I enjoyed the process and the collaborative part of filmmaking,” he says. “And (the film) received a lot of attention.”

Since then, he’s made 100 short films and seven feature-length documentaries about art and artists.

And while he loves filmmaking and will continue, Scholl says that about eight years ago he decided to expand his practice. “I wanted to try and do something that didn’t take 15 people to make a piece of art,” he says. “Films are collaborative and you need so many people.”

He began focusing on the question: “What is it that I know and do that I can bring to an art practice?”

Then, as someone who has been “collecting things almost since birth,” he began “poking around in that.”

Hua International

“Untitled (DiMaggio honeymoon),” 2022, acquired objects and graphite. (Hua International/Courtesy)

The poking unearthed an interest he has always had in collecting historical ephemera, which has led to where he is now. It merges his desire to create original art with his penchant for collecting.

Scholl began to work with historical and branded original objects, some that he’d already obtained from bidding at auctions. “I generally reassemble the individual objects creating a dodecagon, a 12-sided figure,” he says.

Earlier this year, he exhibited his first solo show in Berlin, titled “The Texture of My Memory” and featuring nearly 20 works. One piece is made up of royalty statements Scholl acquired at an auction for songs written by legends John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Another was created with ephemera purchased from “Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio’s estate.

“I bought footage of him on his honeymoon with Marilyn Monroe and then I bought the New York Daily News’ newspapers from the week that Marilyn died and I put them together,” says Scholl.

There’s a South Florida connection to the inspiration for “Untitled (DiMaggio honeymoon), 2022.”

“Every day I’d go to breakfast at a place called Arnie & Richie’s (in Miami Beach) … Back in the day, Joe DiMaggio would be there almost every morning. He was taciturn. You couldn’t approach him, you couldn’t ask him for an autograph or a picture, you couldn’t smile, you couldn’t even look at him,” Scholl says. “I would think: Why is he like that? He’s one of the greatest baseball players ever, so why is he so unhappy? Then I made this piece about him and about Marilyn dying.”

He told the publication ARTnews that taking “objects of desire,” like the DiMaggio footage and the Beatles’ original ledger sheets, helps “draw you into this collective memory we all share.”

Stepping away from all that’s happening with Oolite Arts wasn’t an easy decision. Scholl has been at the forefront of the organization’s major modern transition — a move from Lincoln Road in Miami Beach to a sprawling new urban village in Miami’s Little River neighborhood, a $30 million headquarters designed by Spanish architectural firm Barozzi Veiga.

He also was instrumental in a cross-county collaboration with the Art and Culture Center/Hollywood, which features exhibitions of new work, essays and programming. The inaugural exhibition, titled “Black Castor Oil,” took place June 5, 2021, curated by the Art and Culture Center’s Meaghan Kent and showcasing the work of Oolite resident artist Mark Fleuridor. Next up: “Love the Everglades Movement,” set to open on Saturday, June 3, to “create a space for learning, engagement, and joy in relationship to the River of Grass,” based on the environmental nonprofit established more than a decade ago by the Rev. Houston R. Cypress and
Jean Sarmiento. (For details, visit artandculturecenter.org/future-exhibitions.)

Hua International

“Untitled (Lennon and McCartney Royalty Ledgers),” 2022, acquired objects and graphite. (Hua International/Courtesy)

As anyone might do when considering a significant career change, he thought aloud to a trusted colleague, Franklin Sirmans, director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

“I said, ‘Franklin, I have all these opportunities. But you know at Oolite, I want to finish up the building, which is going to be another two years. So I think I’m going to defer the opportunities,’ ” he recalls.

He says Sirmans laughed and told him “that’s not how the art world works,” encouraging him “to keep going now if you want to keep the momentum.”

Scholl says that in the same month, he received offers to do two films with good budgets.

“You can’t do all that and have a full-time job,” says Scholl. He consulted with his wife, Debra, and made the decision. “I’m going to go for it.”

He plans to continue to consult for Oolite and won’t officially leave his position until later this year. Oolite has already announced it will conduct a national search for his replacement.

While Scholl says he “never says never” to opportunities, he believes that what he calls his “third act” will be making films and art for the next 15 years.

“How exciting it is for me to have the opportunity to be part of an artist community that I embrace and that I revere and now can be a part of it in a different way,” he says.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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