Call it an art world Cinderella moment. ArtCenter/South Florida, a scrappy nonprofit in Miami Beach, has long been overshadowed by the area’s newer cultural arrivals; its founding mission of providing affordable artist studios is nowhere near as fancy as starting a museum or partying at the annual Art Basel Miami Beach fair.
However, the 2014 sale of one of ArtCenter’s buildings for $88 million — after it was purchased in 1988 for $684,000, when the surrounding neighborhood was largely run down — left it with the largest endowment of any visual arts organization in South Florida. Now ArtCenter finally has a plan for its windfall: the hiring of a veteran Miami arts figure and an ambitious expansion of its program.
Dennis Scholl, previously vice president for arts at the Knight Foundation in Miami, will become the president and chief executive of ArtCenter on Sept. 1. Mr. Scholl led the effort at Knight to expand its philanthropy into the national arts arena, overseeing nearly $200 million in grants during his tenure, from 2009 to 2015. In addition to being one of Miami’s best-known contemporary art collectors, he has served on the boards of several museums, including the Pérez Art Museum Miami, where he remains a trustee.
“Dennis has certainly shown that he can build institutions, and that’s what we were looking for,” said Kim Kovel, ArtCenter’s board chairwoman. Thanks to prudent investing and a booming stock market, Ms. Kovel said, the center’s endowment has swelled to $94 million.
She added, “We have to transition from a starving arts organization to one with resources, and say ‘What can we do that other arts organizations can’t?’”
To that end, Mr. Scholl indicated that subsidized artist studios would remain at the core of ArtCenter, within a new campuslike setting. But studios are just one element. ArtCenter will begin a grant program to fund local artists’ efforts to create fresh work and participate in exhibitions around the world. Education will also play a major role, with international talent being flown to Miami for hands-on sessions. He said the goal is to transform the Miami art world into one that commands attention “beyond those five days in December” when Art Basel unfolds.
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