Articles by

Dennis Scholl

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    For the past two years two years, we’ve been hiding baritones in shoe departments, and rolling xylophones down supermarket aisles, surprising people across the country with Random Acts of Culture™.It all started as an experiment. With audiences for traditional performances declining, at Knight Foundation we were looking for a way to remind people of how important the classical arts are to their lives.About the same time, a friend sent me a video from a market in Seville, Spain, where a guy selling ham behind a counter bursts into an aria at the top of his lungs. The audience was captivated as six people came out of the crowd to join him. I must have played it a thousand times as I thought, we need to recreate moments like these across the U.S.  by bringing classical performers into people’s everyday lives.At first, we weren’t exactly sure how to go about it, to make sure it was more of a bold surprise than the pleasant background music you expect at the mall on a given Saturday.With a little trepidation, we did our first one by putting a quartet in the middle of Miami’s County Hall. When we saw a man walking by, waving his hands as if playing the conductor, we knew we were on to something.Since then, we’ve learned a lot through trial – and a few errors. As we celebrate our benchmark 1,000th performance, we wanted to share the best and worst moments of Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture™ program.Best: The Messiah goes viral: The biggest hit was pulling off a surprise performance in Philadelphia at a Macy’s. Each Saturday, people gather there to hear the world’s largest pipe organ. But they didn’t expect more than 600 choristers to start singing Handel’s Messiah. There were goosebumps and tears. The video went viral, with now close to 8 million views on YouTube, and thousands of comments like this one: “Sheer delight, I wanted to forget my broken hip and dance.”Worst: Copy cat creates havoc: After that Philadelphia performance was viewed around the world, we were inundated with calls from people wanting to do Random Acts in their communities. Copy cats sprung up everywhere. In Sacramento, Calif., a group tried to pull off a rendition of Handel’s Messiah at the mall food court. When throngs of people showed up, and concerns grew that the floor would collapse, someone called the fire marshal and the mall was evacuated.Best: Afro-Cuban meets Beethoven: To celebrate the 1,000th Random Act, we’ve been putting on large-scale performances in four cities, including Miami. There, we knew we wanted an iconic venue, so we chose the palm treed pedestrian mall of Lincoln Road. Conductor Sam Hyken, in partnership with the Arsht Center, adapted Beethoven’s Ode to Joy into several formats, starting with jazz, then gospel. When the drums heated up into an Afro-Cuban version, the crowd ate it up. Heyken made this 19th century piece music feel like a hometown favorite.
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    Photograph © 2012 The Barnes Foundation Knight Foundation supported the building of a new Philadelphia facility to house the Barnes Foundation collection, and a mobile app to provide more access to the world-renowned  works. Knight's Vice President/Arts Dennis Scholl writes about the opening. It was a star-studded night as the Barnes Foundation opened the doors to it new 93,000-square-foot facility on museum mile in Philadelphia. The building, designed by Tod Williams and Billy Tsien, glowed in the setting sun as 875 patrons descended.  Luminaries included Ellsworth Kelly, caught posing in front of his 40-foot-tall sculpture in the garden entryway. I also saw most of the Sotheby’s contemporary art contingent, including North and South American chair Lisa Dennison and executive vice president Anthony Grant. Master of ceremonies Brian Williams of NBC News kept the evening moving, even when technical issues got in the way. The crowd was also entertained by a short five-song set from Norah Jones and a rousing gospel moment by a local choir.  But it was more of a see-and-be-seen crowd, as all of Philadelphia and beyond showed up to celebrate the Barnes’ new home. And what a home it is. I had the good fortune of visiting the Barnes in Merion before it closed and when I entered the identically replicated rooms in the new space, it was an odd feeling of deja vu. The main difference is the new space’s exquisite lighting, designed by Paul Marantz. The use of diffused light bouncing off of silver leaf ceilings gives the work a luminous feel. For the first time, you can see the postimpressionist works in all their glory.
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    Knight Foundation supported the building of a new Philadelphia facility to house the Barnes Foundation collection, and a mobile app to provide more access to the world-renowned works. Knight's Vice President/Arts Dennis Scholl writes about the opening. It was a star-studded night as the Barnes Foundation opened the doors to...
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    This week we hit 2,000 posts on KnightArts.org! We also recently reached 3,500,000 page views and over 850,000 visitors. None of this would be possible without so many of our grantees and bloggers making a commitment to connect each of us to their communities and the unlimited amount of cultural...
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    One of our more exciting Detroit projects has been to fund Live From Orchestra Hall: The digital live simulcast of performances by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The energy is amazing and you feel like you are there. The next simulcast, French Masters: Franck, Saint-Saëns and Debussy, is Sunday, Jan 22...
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    By Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation VP/Arts Knight Foundation’s Random Act of Culture® program has been seen by over ten million viewers and we just completed our 345th live performance. I’ve watched dozens of them myself, knowing what was about to happen, looking forward to seeing the quizzical looks of the...
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    In another sign of Miami’s emergence as a cultural beachhead, it suddenly has 5, count’em, 5 independent cinemas! In the last few months the community has seen the Knight-funded O’Cinema open in Wynwood, Miami Beach Cinematheque reopen in their brand new home in old City Hall and Coral Gables Cinematheque...
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    Crossposted from KnightArts.org 2011 marks the inaugural year of the Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia, our three-year, $9 million initiative to fund the best ideas for the arts in Philadelphia. Today, we’re pleased to announce the thirty-six winners receiving $2.7 million in new funding. Like you, we believe the arts inspire and enrich communities. Last fall, we asked the community one simple question: "What’s your best idea for the arts in Philadelphia?" The response was a record-setting 1,752 applications from a wide range of independent artists, organizations, community groups and businesses, demonstrating the city’s vibrant creativity and passion for the arts. We congratulate the winners and thank everyone who submitted an idea. Applications for year two will open this fall, and we look forward to seeing even more great ideas from the Philadelphia community! Read on below for the full list of winners and their inspiring ideas...
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    There's a little celebration going on today amongst the contributors and staffers of KnightArts.org. This is our 1,000th post! KnightArts.org was started by Knight Foundation as a way to inform and engage the community about the Knight Arts Challenge in Miami. It has grown into an internationally read commentary on...