Dennis Scholl, JD '81, To Give Commencement Address


Dennis Scholl, JD '81

Fueled by his many passions, Dennis Scholl, J.D. ’81, keeps adding to his impressive resume: CPA, lawyer, art collector, philanthropist, winemaker, documentary filmmaker. But the Miami native who recently stepped down as vice president of art for the Knight Foundation credits Miami Law for seeding his success in so many endeavors—and for his life’s philosophy.

“Law school was the single greatest intellectual experience I’ve had,” Scholl said. “I had some great, great professors…strong, thoughtful teachers who really felt like they had an obligation to help you reshape your mind and cause you to learn to be very analytical…to look at a problem and parse it out in a way that you can break it down into components and solve for each of the components. And that is how I do business; it is also how I approach personal projects and collect art.”

In law school, he and his wife, Debra Schwartz Scholl, J.D.’81, worked part time at an art gallery. From humble beginnings, they became world-class collectors, and curators. “No Boundaries,” their collection of Australian Aboriginal abstract contemporary paintings is currently traveling to museums across the U.S.

A contemporary art collector for more than 35 years, Scholl has long been involved in philanthropy in the visual arts. Over the last dozen years, he was the founding chair of the Guggenheim Photography Committee, the Tate American Acquisitions Committee, and the Miami Art Museum Collectors Council. Each group raised funds and acquired contemporary art for their respective museums. He has served on the boards and executive committees of the Aspen Art Museum, MOCA Miami, and the Pérez Art Museum, and as the chair of Locust Projects, an alternative art space.

As a documentary filmmaker focused on the arts, he has won seven National Association of Television Arts and Science regional Emmys for his films. His most recent feature film, “Queen of Thursdays,” was named Best Documentary at the Miami International Film Festival. His film “Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival.
To an outsider, the progression from art lover to film producer might seem natural, but to Scholl it was a sea change. “I went from being a facilitator to being a maker,” he said. “For me, it was a huge shift.”

Prior to becoming a filmmaker, Scholl was a practicing attorney, a CPA, and an early leader in the redevelopment of the South Beach Art Deco District and the Wynwood Arts District. He is also a founder of Betts & Scholl, which made award-winning wine in France, Italy, Australia, and Napa Valley.

For his philanthropic service in the Miami art community, he was awarded a Shining Star by the Arts & Business Council, Big Heart in the Arts by the American Heart Association and Mover & Shaker award by Miami Today. He and Debra recently received the National Service to the Arts award from the Anderson Ranch Arts Center.

During his six years at the $2.5 billion, Miami-based Knight Foundation, Scholl oversaw more than $150 million in funding to arts organizations across America. He created Random Acts of Culture, and with his Knight Arts team, developed the Knight Arts Challenge, and expanded the Community Supported Art program. He has been affiliated with the law firm of Roth & Scholl for more than two decades and is presently of counsel to the firm.

Given his multiple interests and successes, it is little wonder that Scholl often asks himself the same question he asks others: “What are you personally passionate about?. ...Because when the going gets tough, that passion is the only thing that keeps you going.”

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