3 Important Lessons Any Arts Organization Can Learn From Oolite Arts’ Miami Expansion


Whether people come to Miami for the sun, the real estate, or the low taxes, they stay for the art. As home to world-class museums, fairs, private collections and gallery districts, over the past four decades Miami has first quietly, then loudly, become a major player in the art world. With each new mall and condo development heralding a major commission, art has become more and more integrated into our landscape. But none of this could have happened without one thing: the artists.

As a Miami-based arts organization that has long been part of this growth, Oolite Arts is constantly thinking about how we need to evolve to build Miami’s next creative chapter, while centering the needs of artists, providing access to community and building for long-term sustainability. We started in 1984, offering affordable studios in vacant Miami Beach storefronts, long before Art Basel came here. Now, as we approach our 40th anniversary in 2024, we are unveiling a new campus designed to meet the needs of our community of artists. As we reveal the plans, we wanted to share what we’ve learned about how arts organizations can adapt to a rapidly growing arts landscape and support artists for generations to come.

Adrienne Edwards, curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art, visits T. Eliott Mansa’s Oolite Arts studio. Courtesy of Oolite Arts.

Find your niche in your local arts ecosystem

Walk into the Oolite Arts showroom in South Beach today and you’ll find an azure blue wall the color of the Miami Beach sky. The text block reads “1402 Pork N Beans Blue,” a reference to the Miami housing project where artist Roscoè B. Thické III grew up, an area made famous as the pastel backdrop of the Oscar-winning film. Moonlight.

“Order My Steps” is Thické’s first solo exhibition, but he was not selected for this one due to a prestigious MFA degree or a sold-out Basel stand. As a 2021 Ellies Creator Award winner and Artist-in-Residence at Oolite Arts, Thické launched his career as a member of our community. A military veteran who studied photography at Broward College, he has a distinctive artistic voice which, cultivated by renowned curator Rosie Gordon-Wallace, brought the stories of his grandmother and neighbors to life through his photographs. Although his practice is unique, he is just one of many Miami artists we have been able to support over the years.

Installation view, Roscoè B. Thické III, "Order My Steps," currently on view at Oolite Arts in Miami Beach.  Photo: Pedro Wazzan.

Installation view, Roscoè B. Thické III, “Order My Steps”, currently on view at Oolite Arts in Miami Beach. Photo: Pedro Wazzan.

Of course, the city’s fantastic museums, galleries and exhibits rival those of any major destination, advancing a diverse and vibrant culture fueled by the perspectives and stories of all who come to Miami to live. But at Oolite Arts, we have a specific purpose, rooted in our mission to help Miami-based artists advance their careers. With affordable studios giving artists the space to create, exhibition spaces giving them the space to show, and then ongoing programming designed to spark ideas, foster conversations, and build connections within our community, we we have long strived to be the home of Miami artists. And our new building, which will increase studio space by 50% and triple our exhibition space, will allow us to help more artists make their mark.

Beyond that, we’ve also expanded our artist residency program, which has supported nearly 1,000 Miami-based visual artists over the past four decades. To this we added our Home + Away Travel Residencies, through which we financially enable Miami-based artists to attend Artpace in San Antonio, Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Aspen, and Florida-based Atlantic Center for the Arts. Add to that direct support for arts projects and professional training, and we expect to see many more Miami-based artists on the national stage – helping them locally, then connecting them across the country.

The new campus will be organized around a central public courtyard and community garden, one of many sustainable design features.  Courtesy of Oolite Arts.

The new campus will be organized around a central public courtyard and community garden, one of many sustainable design features. Courtesy of Oolite Arts.

Create a mission-based design

An organization’s mission should determine the design of its home. We took the opportunity of a new facility to reflect on what makes Oolite unique, and let that inform our new campus and the desired impact on our city. We started by contacting an internationally renowned architectural firm, Barozzi Veiga, based in Barcelona, ​​with this balance in mind: we wanted free studios for artists and we wanted a space for community members to exercise their creative impulses through classes for the public, film screenings, conversation series, and more.

With a configuration reminiscent of a village, the project of our new house strikes a balance between the personal and the collective, the intimate and the shared. The building itself was designed to invite connection, expressed through a horizontal design that opens to the north, south, east and west, encouraging neighbors to visit from all directions. At the heart, an interior courtyard overflowing with greenery highlights the open layout of the campus.

While resident artists work in their individual studios, the public can take an art class, hear a talk from a renowned curator in the auditorium, or attend an event in the courtyard. The setting is intended to provide an oasis and a new type of public gathering space for the neighborhood – a burgeoning arts district easily accessible within the city and close to many artist studios, homes and galleries.

Dennis Scholl, President and CEO of Oolite Arts, center, with architects Alberto Veiga and Fabrizio Barozzi.  Pictured: Christina Mendenhall.

Dennis Scholl, President and CEO of Oolite Arts, center, with architects Alberto Veiga and Fabrizio Barozzi. Pictured: Christina Mendenhall.

make it last

Cultural sustainability starts with climate resilience. You don’t have to live in Miami, one of the most vulnerable places in the country to sea level rise and global warming, to know that. But you must be determined in your planning. We are named after the porous bedrock beneath South Florida. Our new home is also informed by nature. Our design uses repeating elements – such as skylights, solar chimneys, wind catchers and water reservoirs – and harnesses the power of diffused natural light to provide artists with an ideal workspace. By using wind, water and sun to reduce energy consumption, the building is expected to achieve LEED certification. These elements form the basis of a sustainable architecture capable of adapting to a changing climate.

But the building is also designed around different ideas of resilience and flow. We wanted a space that was flexible enough to evolve over time, meeting the needs of different artists, allowing for staff and program growth and, through the public central courtyard, positioning Oolite as a long-term community partner. Miami has changed dramatically since we opened in 1984, and its organizations and artists have adapted admirably. As Oolite Arts continues to evolve alongside the city, we want to lead and anticipate change so we can best serve the artists who make Miami great – and that’s the keystone of any successful organization, no matter where you are.

Dennis Scholl is President and CEO of Oolite Arts, one of Florida’s leading visual artist support organizations, where he oversees a significant expansion of programming and the construction of a new campus in the city of Miami. , which is slated to open in 2024. Scholl previously served as vice president/arts of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, where he oversaw the foundation’s national arts program, with grants to cultural organizations totaling nearly $200 million. He has created a series of initiatives dedicated to building the contemporary art collections of major museums and has served on the boards and executive committees of the Aspen Art Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami; and the Pérez Art Museum, among others.

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