Best Arts Leader

Best Arts Leader SRQ Magaznieth_BestOf211040523038
Virginia Hoffman and Iain Webb

Sarasota is one of the most successful arts communities in the nation,
but how does it keep that position? Our  readers say advocates and fine arts leaders like sculptor Virginia Hoffman and Sarasota Ballet Director Iain Webb help us stay on top. The two artists tied for top honors this award season, noted by readers not simply for the beauty of their craft, but for the nurturing they provide to rising artists in this region. Also in the running this year were Key Chorale Artistic Director Joseph Caulkins, Ringling College of Art and Design President Dr. Larry Thompson and Sarasota Orchestra Conductor Leif Bjaland, who all earned standing ovations and tied for first runner-up. –JO

Visual Art Commentaries


Not Art and Not So Original
VIRGINIA HOFFMANSRQ Daily  September 17, 2011

Is the Tube Dude Sarasota’s new king of lowbrow? Are these roadside stick figures art? Creator Scott Gerber says, “yes,” but let’s go exploring anyway. Editorialist Tom Lyons, who compared Gerber’s roadside stick figures with “Yellowman” by competitor Sarasota Sign Machine, classified the Tube Dude as an up scale version of products that do seem like art, or something close. “Yellowman” creator Adam Nitterauer, steaming over a cease and desist order received from Gerber, said: “No they are not art. They are sign holders and advertisements.” The litigious treatment so far has not worked on Nitterauer, who still sells “Yellowman” but is mystified by anonymous code enforcement complaints when the Tube Dude serves a similar purpose. Perhaps Gerber’s effort to elevate his stick figures by calling them art is merely intended to sidestep sign ordinances. Are the dues at least original? Enter the “EXCITING – Tube Dude(™)” dancing roadside balloon figures, which have been around for years. Curious if “EXCITING – Tube Dude” could shed some light on the “is it art” question, a company sales rep. said, “Lady if you aren’t going to order a balloon, I don’t got time to talk.” With prodding, he confirmed his figures were not art, but were advertisements. He did not know about Gerber’s Tube Dude, but he does now. Depending on the scope of the balloon Dude’s trademark, Gerber could have a problem. Sarasota’s creative class is also weighing in, especially since the stick figure factory received a $100,000 grant from the county to help with expansion. Facebook chatter from visual artists not keyed into how government works in SarasDepending on the scope of the balloon Dude’s trademark, Gerber could have a problem. Sarasota’s creative class is also weighing in, especially since the stick figure factory received a $100,000 grant from the county to help with expansion. Facebook chatter from visual artists not keyed into how government works in Sarasota are reeling. Most know the Sanborn Studios scenario and see this as another risky venture with an unrealistic plan to parley the money into 44 full time jobs. They do not consider the Tube Dude art. One New York transplant referred to them as gimmicky stick figures intended for promotional purposes, subbing them a fad which too shall pass. There seems slim chance for Gerber to earn his artist’s license with local artists, who are generally aghast at the press attention that somewhat reinforces the “this is art” declaration. But since Gerber did get his thumbs up from the county, my feeling is he’s having 100,000 laughs at our expense. 

Virginia Hoffman creates sought-after sculptural furniture.

Virginia Hoffman creates sought-after sculptural furniture.
by Anu Varma Sarasota Magazine 2003

In her early 20s, young Sarasota resident and Ringling grad Virginia Hoffman was chafing for change and ready for big-city life

A couple of decades later, Hoffman is still here in the town where she grew up–but her sculptural furniture sits in homes and businesses as &r away as South America and Japan. And right here in her hometown, Hoffman has built a thriving business–a full-service decorative studio where she creates customized pieces that make an artistic statement in any room. Her work has been included in several books; and this month she will be profiled on HGTV’s popular show, Modern Masters.

Inspired by the contemporary art movement and industrial design of the 1950s, Hoffman fashions metal and glass into flowing abstract sculptural furniture. Decorators don’t come to Hoffman with designs in hand; they come with floor plans and specs, asking for a Hoffman piece that can work in that space. One coffee-table top she created is kidney-shaped; another is comprised of two interlocking pieces of varying heights in etched glass. Silver-and copper-leafed “legs” of stainless steel pyramids and brass balls curve and soar in unexpected angles.

“I love clean design, texture,” Hoffman says. “I love to see beautiful forms in space.”

Hoffman spends up to two years on a project, often creating several pieces for one client. She describes her work as very technical and involved, and though some of her happiest times are spent creating, she admits it’s hard work.

“It’s very hard physical labor to do metalworking,” she says. “It’s hot, heavy, noisy, dirty. But it’s a whole lot of v in made in sarafun.”

Hoffman graduated from the Ringling School of Art and Design with a degree in graphic design but didn’t enjoy the advertising field. So she worked for a stained glass studio and learned the etching and staining techniques that won her initial fame. She began to develop a solid network of designers and architects, who would come to her for pieces; and she soon branched into metal work, a suitable medium for the self-professed tomboy and daughter of a builder. She learned her craft by apprenticing herself to master metalworkers and traveling through the United States and Europe to learn from the best. Over the years, she’s created everything from furniture to sculpture, murals, doors and screens.

“You can’t put me in a box,” Hoffman says, grinning.

She may occasionally deplore the lack of a progressive element in Sarasota art culture, but she’s comfortable here in her rambling studio with its lived-in air and “Jerry plus Virginia” (her husband of nearly a year) spray-painted exuberantly on the wall outside. Inside, she stores designs of past projects in the rafters and has mounted massive speakers on the wall so she and her long-time assistant can belt out James Brown lyrics as they work.

Ask Hoffman about her old big-city dreams and she’ll tell you this story: One day a police officer showed up at her studio, responding to a noise complaint. He found Hoffman absorbed in a blues tape she was playing at full blast, boogying and hollering along as she worked (this is, after all, the woman who had the HGTV producer belly dancing with her by the end of the shoot). Rather than citing her, the cop–who, as it turned out, once belonged to a blues band–ended up borrowing the tape and joining Hoffman’s large and varied stable of friends and acquaintances.

Leave Sarasota? Not any time soon. “I’ve learned the value of deep roots,” she says. “I don’t want to give up what I’ve built.”

Firestarters: Top Agent of Change

SRQ Magazine

Beautiful sculpture can be found throughout Sarasota, and so can fine sculptors. But Virginia Hoffman, an artist who lived in Sarasota from the time she was 11 years old, has been frustrated at times that there isn’t always a connection between the two. A number of years ago, she became very upset when Sarasota City Commissioners were hiring artists from far outside the state to create works of art to station throughout the community She remembers a specific instance when Philadelphia artist Ray King was hired to sculpt a piece to stand outside City Hall. “He did work almost exactly like my work, and I was very unhappy,” she says. The incident inspired her to go directly to Commissioners and ask why a call to artists hadn’t even been issued, and why officials were not interested in seeing a local artist create something instead. She didn’t convince them to rescind the contract with King, but she did end up with a spot on the Public Art Committee for City Hall, a job she has held ever since. That particular slight was personal, she says, but her main focus is on giving local artists a grander position in a community renowned for the arts. That desire is being realized this year with the Intersections program, a sculpture competition of sorts where Florida artists will have work featured on the streets of Sarasota for a year, with one artist seeing his or her work purchased and made a permanent part of the City’s public art collection. Following up on similar efforts around the state, the competition will be the largest such sculpture competition put on by a city in Florida. “I’ve always had the desire to give local artists the first crack at anything,” Hoffman says. “Now that the economy is so bad, local hiring is on everybody’s tongue and has become the popular thing to do.” Of course, Hoffman has also made headlines this year for a fierce opposition against one particular sculpture. When the possibility first arose that Seward Johnson’s Unconditional Surrender, the eye-catchingly kitsch kissing sailor that now adorns the Bayfront, could become a permanent exhibition, Hoffman used her position on the Public Art Committee to launch a full-throated campaign against the piece. Copyright issues and questions about donation procedure have made the statue one of the most complicated of government matters facing City officials, but Hoffman is up front about her chief concern with the statue. It’s an ugly rip-off of a famous picture sitting in one of the best positions of any work of art within the City limits, she says. “There seems to be a growing culture war between those who are accepting of low-brow art and the local arts community that wants a higher aesthetic ideal,” she says. “I think Sarasota has set a world-class cultural standard, and a lot of forces out there are trying to take that away.” She fears the kissing sailor will become the main image visitors associate with Sarasota, rather than many of the more critically exciting pieces scattered around town. Hoffman seems to have lost this fight, though, as a majority of City Commissioners approved a deal to keep the statue in its current location for the next 10 years. But with the Intersections program, Hoffman hopes some of the human-scale pieces that will adorn major corners and public spaces throughout the area will remain in visitors’ minds instead. She expects the artwork will also increase traffic to local shopping districts, creating jobs both for local artists and retailers alike. By Jacob Ogles / Photography by Kathryn Brass