Dennis Scholl Talks Knight Arts Challenge and Turning Money into Art

Miami's art scene has exploded in recent years, to the point where Art Basel is a must-see stop on any serious art collector's annual rounds. Part of this is due to the fact Miami has spawned and attracted many amazing, seriously sick artists whose talents cannot be denied. Another prominent factor responsible for our art cred is the Knight Arts Challenge.

The contest provides matching grant funds to local artists, to the tune of millions of dollars in funding per year. Now in its fourth year, the Knight Foundation has already invested over $37.5 million in our local art community.

Unlike other programs that have stringent and therefore exclusive

restrictions, the Knight Arts Challenge encourages all types of artists

to apply. There are only three rules: "The idea is about the arts; the

project takes place in or benefits South Florida; and applicants must

find other funding to match the Knight Foundation grant."


had the opportunity to interview Dennis Scholl, a man who plays a vital

role in the Knight Arts Challenge and who has helped make it possible

for local artists, such as Naomi Fisher and Campbell McGrath, two of our 100 Creatives, to continue making Miami a cultural force to be reckoned with.

New Times: As vice president, what role do you play in the foundation and in the Knight Arts Challenge?

Dennis Scholl: My current role at Knight Foundation is Vice President/Arts. I oversee the National Arts

program which lends cultural programming in the eight Knight communities of Akron, Charlotte,

Detroit, Macon, Miami, Philadelphia, Saint Paul and San Jose. This includes the Knight Arts

Challenge in Miami and Philadelphia and the Random Acts of Culture program.

I also serve as Miami Program Director overseeing grant making, primarily in the arts and

education, in Miami.

Why are the arts important in a city like Miami?

In a place as diverse as Miami, the arts have low barriers to entry and reach across racial

and economic boundaries to bring us together as a community. In a recent Gallup poll

commissioned by Knight Foundation called the "Soul of the Community," social offerings were

the number one factor that local Miamians said "attached' them to their community. Most

important of all, the arts nourish our soul.

Are there any groups, mediums, or subject areas, you feel are still underrepresented?

Miami is an artistic adolescent when compared to communities like Philadelphia and Detroit.

Our cultural assets are growing in leaps and bounds, but those cities have a 250 year head

start! So it's going to take us a while to catch up.

We've seen the visual arts in Miami rise to international prominence in the last decade. If I had

to predict what might achieve the same level of excellence in the next decade I'd point to our

up-and-coming music scene.

Why the stipulation for matching funds and do you have any suggestions for artists having

difficulty locating them? 

We know that the matching funds component of the Knight Arts Challenge can be intimidating

for individual artists and small collectives. However, all the individuals and small groups

selected as KAC winners have found a way to match. Look at Gean Moreno's Name

Publications artist's book project. He reached out to ten artist friends who contributed work in

editions of ten which he then sold at an event for $250 each and raised $25,000.

Our goal with the match is twofold: first to encourage the community to join us in making these

ideas a reality and they have stepped up and generously matched our commitment to the arts.

Second, when the Challenge funding is spent, the winning arts groups will have had the added

benefit of learning how to raise their match from the community. That is an experience they

can use to reach out and continue to fundraise for years to come.

One thing that I truly respect about the Challenge is that there are no limits or boundaries in

respect to the contestants' submissions. The Knight Foundation seems to seek truly original

ideas to help fund. How do you think censorship hurts communities and individuals?

As the largest journalism funders in the world, Knight Foundation invests considerable resources

in fighting censorship and encouraging free speech. A true democracy such as ours can only

survive if communities and individuals have access to all the information necessary for them

to live their lives and self-govern. The arts are the ultimate self-expression mechanism and

therefore are an area where we need to be the most diligent in protecting free speech.

In regards to submissions, is there anything you'd like to see more or less of?

We'd like to see more proposals celebrating diversity; more applications that bring to the

community the many different cultures that live and make all kinds of art here.

I don't think we are looking for less of anything. This contest is open to everyone and the more

ideas the merrier. The number of applications this year was up 25% over last year. In the first

4 years of the contest we've received 5,500 ideas. Trust me, I know - I've read every single one

of them! 

Who chooses the winners and how?

The winners are ultimately chosen by the Knight Foundation Trustees. The process starts with

a group of readers comprised of community leaders, many who are immersed in our cultural

scene. They each read all of the ideas and recommend a set of finalists who are considered by

Knight. The finalists are invited to submit proposals which are again reviewed by the readers.

The proposed winners are presented to the Knight Trustees for approval. The winners are

announced on the Monday of Art Basel week on the stage of the Knight Concert Hall.

What's your opinion on the current pool of artistic talent in Miami?

Miami currently has a wealth of artistic talent in almost all disciplines. Look at your New Times

Creatives. Each and every one of them is creating some of the country's most edgy, forward


Think of all the world class art in Miami that has arisen over the last decade.

All those visual artists launching international careers, like Hernan Bas, Bert Rodriguez,

Adler Guerrier and Naomi Fisher. An internationally renowned ballet corps at Miami City Ballet. New World Symphony's talented orchestra and their willingness to lead the way at the

intersection of classical music and new media.

A cadre of international architects like Chad Oppenheim and Rene Gonzalez, and new

buildings like the Gehry building for New World Symphony and Herzog and de Meuron's

1111 Alton and Miami Art Museum buildings. Modern dance is starting to break out - led by Rosie Herrera. Our community's growing relationship with the world class Cleveland Orchestra serves

as a new business model for the future of classical music in communities.

These are just a few examples of Miami's world class art scene that is causing us to

be thought of as a cultural destination. For tourists, it isn't just about Mansion and Liv


Where would you like to see the Miami art, music, theater, and film scenes in ten years?

In ten years the rest of the world will have discovered Miami's cultural ascendency. So if

you're a classical music fan you will need to come to see NWS play in their new home. If

you are part of the ballet cognoscenti, you will need to see MCB perform.

In ten years, our Florida Grand Opera's stature will continue to grow, especially due to their

aggressive outreach programs and Random Acts of Culture. The efforts are making opera

available and approachable to our entire community, not just a select few.

Playwright Tarell McCraney is coming home to make more work for and about our

community, and hopefully we can keep him here for the next decade.

We suddenly have 5, count 'em, 5 independent cinemas showing both the best films from

across the globe and community driven local programming. This is supported by festivals

like Borscht, MIFF, GLBT, American Black Film Fest and many others.

I think what really excites me the most is I can't tell yet which of the artistic disciplines will

emerge as world class, although I'm sure there will be a few. I can't wait to watch it all

happen. Throughout the next ten years the Knight Foundation will be committed to provide

fuel to support this artistic momentum and to encourage audience engagement and artistic

excellence in our community.

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Ily Goyanes
Contact: Ily Goyanes