“Every Miamian should have access to high-quality arts programming.” That’s the belief of Dennis Scholl, president and CEO of Oolite Arts, formerly the ArtCenter/South Florida, which announced this week it plans to relocate to a newly built headquarters in Miami’s Little River. “We want to be an integral part of the neighborhood.”
Outsiders moving into the Little River and Little Haiti areas don’t always receive a warm welcome. In January, when the Citadel food hall 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 Francois 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 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 in Little River. Scholl’s wish list includes room for 22 artist studios, a large exhibition space, a theater, and a “maker space” where artists and others in the community can “weld something, hammer something, make noise.” A communal space for casual gatherings, areas for classes in everything from technique to social media to 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,” with a budget of $30 million. 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 and deMeuron, 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, will launch for students at St. Mary’s Catholic School in the spring. Other local collaborations will be announced in the next four weeks, Scholl says.