Miami-Dade County

Knight Foundation announces $25 million in new arts grants

Dennis Scholl will step down as vice president of arts at the Knight Foundation.
Dennis Scholl will step down as vice president of arts at the Knight Foundation.

The Miami-based Knight Foundation on Sunday announced $25 million in new grants to South Florida cultural organizations that include the Perez Art Museum Miami, University of Miami Frost School of Music and the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, bringing its total investment in South Florida arts to $122 million since 2005.

It will also continue to fund its popular grass-roots aimed Knight Arts Challenge through 2018, with $7.5 million, foundation leaders said at a community event Sunday evening.

The agenda also included the surprise announcement of a new vice president for the arts. Victoria Rogers, executive vice president of the Knight-funded New World Symphony, will join the foundation this spring. She replaces Dennis Scholl, a Miami wine entrepreneur, filmmaker and art collector who has led the foundation’s art programs to national prominence over the past six years.

In an interview, Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen said the 2015 arts donations continue the foundation’s holistic approach to funding programs that bring various art forms to anyone who wants to experience them. The Knight Foundation supports community engagement in the 26 communities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once owned newspapers, and fosters journalistic excellence in the digital age.

"We approach [arts funding] in a very different way, not with a theory about what art should be,” he said. "Art is an expression of this community, and that means that you have to be willing to let go of a lot prescriptions. You have to be willing to let the community say, ‘this is what is exciting, and this is who we are.’ ”

The largest of the 2015 grants is $7.5 million to fund a new recital hall with top technology at UM’s Frost School of Music. Another $5 million goes to PAMM to commission works by international artists. An additional $5 million goes to the newly established Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, to fund at least three exhibitions a year by under-represented and emerging artists.

Shelly Berg, dean of the Frost School of Music, said the recital hall will help the school “be a world leader in incubating concert experiences for the future, and how those performances will be disseminated and perceived.”

“The hall will have stellar acoustics, interactive technology, and flexibility in performance and seating arrangements,” he said. “As a result of this transformitive investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, students will leave the Frost School with greatly enhanced opportunities to shape the world of performance to come.”

Aaron Podhurst, chairman of PAMM, thanked the Knight Foundation for enabling the museum to provide international art to an increasingly diverse community.

"This is becoming an international city. It really is one of the leading international cities of the world," he said. "By bringing [international artists] in, it not only helps the art world, but it also helps the city, which is very diverse.”

ICA deputy director and chief curator Alex Gartenfeld called the grant a “transformational endowment gift.”

"The Knight Foundation's recognition profoundly expands ICA Miami's ability to fulfill its mission by commissioning experimental and scholarly exhibitions by the most significant emerging and under-represented artists of our time," he said.

As for the leadership change, Ibargüen said in an interview that Scholl apprised him six months ago that he was ready to step down.

“We’ve had a phenomenal partnership based on mutual respect and admiration. Dennis is amazing for what he knows and admits what he doesn't know. That makes him a fantastic funder when talking about creative people. He’s really about respecting the art.

“We started talking about who has the same approach to art and community [as Dennis], who has sensibility for the artist and art and who would be a delight to work with,” he said. “Victoria Rogers was on our list in October. She was on our list in December, and when the final decision was made in February, she was still on the top of our list.”

Rogers said she was "blown out of the water" when Ibargüen called with the offer.

"It’s just such an amazing opportunity and they so focus on the things in which I place phenomenal value," she said.

Rogers, who danced tap and ballet, trained as a classical musician and earned an undergraduate degree in art, said the scope of the foundation's support for artistic endeavors and its geographic reach appeal to her.

"I think that Dennis created a remarkable program," she said. "And I am delighted that it has been entrusted to me."

Rogers starts the new job May 1, a few days after the New World Symphony ends its season with a performance at Carnegie Hall.

For his part, Scholl said he is "thrilled" that Rogers will take over.

"I feel so pleased that the program that I helped build will be overseen by somebody who I respect immensely," he said. "We both have almost a reverence for art and artists."

Scholl said the past six years represented the longest time he spent with one organization, as well as "the most joyful."

His future plans: "Make some more films, collect art, hopefully down the road make some more wine."

Scholl will also serve as an adviser and consultant to the Knight Foundation.

"I’ll still stay connected to the arts in a profound way," he said. "And I will continue to hopefully be involved in this community as I have for the last 35 years as a patron. I’m not going anywhere."

Related stories from Miami Herald