Architecture & Design

Oolite Arts President Dennis Scholl on Moving to Little Haiti: "We Hope the Community Is Excited"

Oolite Arts president and CEO Dennis Scholl (center) makes friends at a recent exhibition.
Oolite Arts president and CEO Dennis Scholl (center) makes friends at a recent exhibition. World Red Eye
"Every Miamian should have access to high-quality arts programming." That's the belief of Dennis Scholl, president and CEO of Oolite Arts, formerly ArtCenter/South Florida, which announced this week it plans to relocate to a newly built headquarters in Miami's Little Haiti. "We want to be an integral part of the neighborhood."

Outsiders moving to Little Haiti don't always receive a warm welcome. In January, when the food hall the Citadel threw a party in advance of its opening in Little Haiti, the event attracted protesters who opposed the rapid development and gentrification in their neighborhood. Shortly after the Citadel's official opening, the Miami Herald published a scathing editorial by France François calling the food hall "the latest monument to the gentrification of Miami’s Haitian community."

The plot of land Oolite Arts has purchased for its new HQ also falls within the Little Haiti boundaries established in 2016. But Scholl says he hopes Oolite's new neighbors will appreciate having a world-class cultural mecca right around the corner.

"We're not a for-profit organization," he says. "We're coming to the neighborhood hoping that the community is excited and wants to embrace the idea of having a nonprofit arts organization that's there for them."

Another consideration, he says, is that Oolite's future location is in a warehouse district, not a residential or small-business area. "We're surrounded on all four sides by warehouses," he points out. "Directly next to us is the railroad track. We felt like that was a place where we could go in and be a little bit of a pioneer."

If all goes according to plan, Oolite's new home will be unlike anything else in the neighborhood. Scholl's wish list includes room for 22 artists' studios, a large exhibition space, a theater, and a "maker space" where artists and other members of the community can "weld something, hammer something, make noise." A communal space for casual gatherings; areas for classes such as technique, social media, and tax tips for creatives; and a library housing Scholl's 1,000-book collection of art publications are also on that list.

Through the firm Jones Kroloff, Oolite is conducting a worldwide search for an architect to build what Scholl calls a "signature building" on a $30 million budget. If all goes well, he adds, Oolite's new headquarters will be an addition to Miami's growing wealth of unique and impressive star-designed buildings.

"We do have our 'starchitect' parking garages, your Herzog & de Meuron, your Zaha Hadid, your Enrique Norten," he says with a laugh. "It’s a pretty great time in Miami if you like incredible architecture."

In the meantime, Oolite has already expanded its programming into Little River. A video art program, led by acclaimed artist and organizer Lee Heinemann, is set to launch for students at St. Mary's Catholic School this spring. Other local collaborations will be announced in the next four weeks, Scholl says.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the neighborhood where Oolite Arts' new headquarters will be built.
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Ciara LaVelle is New Times' former arts and culture editor. She earned her BS in journalism at Boston University and moved to Florida in 2004. She joined New Times' staff in 2011.
Contact: Ciara LaVelle