Visual Art Commentaries

Sarasota’s Stadium of Culture VIRGINIA HOFFMAN, 2012

Stadium of Culture? In Sarasota? Yes, you’ve seen it but never thought of it in this way. It’s the North Trail corridor starting at Boulevard of the Arts and it goes all the way to our magnificent John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. This stadium houses performance and visual arts experiences in quite a few nice facilities. The only problem is the blight and dormant properties, which lay in and around them. What an eye opener it would be to read the mind of a first time visitor to Sarasota as they hop into their rental car at the airport on their way to their beach side hotel; they drive past the Ringling Museum, then meet mostly blight until they get to the bayfront campus containing the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and its companion faculties abutting the fallow Quay properties.

The City of Sarasota is doing its best to change this and has placed North Trail Redevelopment on its priority list. Despite good intentions, the Cultural District plan is still sitting there waiting to be funded.

County leaders, wake up please! The city cannot do this on its own. It is time to step in and take the lion’s share of this project. Sports had its infusion with a brand new stadium and soon-to-be rowing faculties. Now it’s the Arts’ turn; build our Cultural Stadium and put your money where your mouth is. Stop taking your greatest resource for granted. There I said it, loud and proud. Feel better?

Sarasota County leaders rest too comfortably on their image of Sarasota as a cultural mecca. For those in the know, awareness of Sarasota in other parts of the country is minimal. County leaders should reassess that tourist penny tax. Sarasota voters did not embrace this tax when it first hit the ballot but the second time around it was the strength of the cultural organizations expressing their value as an economic driver that finally got it passed. Unfortunately, the portion set aside out of that penny tax for the arts is not guaranteed. This is not only shameful, it’s short-sighted not to put these funds into the arts. A recent article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported the arts remain a strong economic driver. It was not a trifling bit but a big bit: “Sarasota County arts organizations and audiences pumped $180 million into the economy in 2010,— the number of arts related full-time jobs increased 55 percent, to 4,579 – more than 1,000 positions above the national average for similarly sized cities.”

Sarasota has the cultural anatomy to give Santa Fe a run for its money and Santa Fe is the second largest visual art market in America after New York City. We can do it but we need help. I will miss my friend Randy Welker, the city’s departing economic coordinator. When he came on the scene, his words were music to my ears because within the chatter he would always reinforce the need to support the arts as an important component to drive our economic engine. I wish him well and hope someone will be taking his place soon.