The following guest column by Phillip P. Lanham appeared in the Saturday, August 19, 2023 edition of SRQ Daily:
It’s no secret that our community’s world-class arts and cultural organizations, performances, and collections have earned Sarasota County the reputation as Florida’s “Cultural Coast.” Around the country, this community is known as a haven of arts and culture, an eclectic blend of exceptional organizations that inspire and educate audiences year round.
As you may have guessed, I am excited to experience my first arts season in Sarasota. I learned many of our local arts organizations offer experiences accessible to all, including the My Gardens Program at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens which provides free memberships to both the downtown and Historic Spanish Point campuses for low-income families to enjoy beautiful green spaces and innovative art exhibitions. This certainly aligns with our vision at Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Gulf Coast) of thriving communities with opportunities for all.
The arts are an important economic driver in our community. They generate local and state taxes, provide jobs, drive tourism, and have a multimillion-dollar direct economic impact, in addition to their world-class educational programming for students of all ages. The arts meaningfully enhance the quality of life in our region.
We established our Arts Appreciation Grant program in 2014 to support the cultural and economic contributions of eight of our region’s cornerstone arts groups. The program has been expanded over the years to now include 13 arts and cultural institutions: Asolo Repertory Theatre, Circus Arts Conservatory, Embracing Our Differences, Florida Studio Theatre, Hermitage Artist Retreat, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Ringling Museum, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, Venice Symphony, Venice Theatre, and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
The Arts Appreciation Grants provide annual unrestricted funding which allows each organization to focus their time and talent on what matters most, their artistic missions. In June, we shared our Board of Directors approved nearly $40 million in grants to our nonprofit partners which included $710,000 in Gulf Coast’s Arts Appreciation Grants.
The upcoming arts season is filled to the brim with exciting opportunities to be entertained, educated, and even challenged. The new season includes the return of the Hermitage Artist Retreat’s Sunsets at Selby Gardens that features performances and explorations of works-in-progress by Hermitage artists-in-residence and alumni. Other season highlights include Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s much anticipated world-premiere musical Ruby written and directed by Nate Jacobs, the Venice Symphony is celebrating their 50th anniversary with a stellar lineup of concerts beginning in November, and the Venice Theatre’s season includes its beloved production of A Christmas Carol. The Sarasota Orchestra is also celebrating a milestone this season. Its 75th-anniversary lineup includes five unique series that are sure to move and inspire us all.
Our Strategic Engagement Manager Kelly Borgia, who manages our Arts Appreciation Grants, shares, “The coming season delivered by our dynamic Arts Appreciation Grant recipients is not to be missed! There is something for everyone this season,” said Borgia. “In the spring of 2024, we’ll see both the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Sarasota Art Museum present Skyway 2024: A Contemporary Collaboration which is a celebration of artistic practices in the Tampa Bay region. The Sarasota Ballet will travel to Venice to present The Nutcracker in mid-December and Embracing Our Differences’ 2024 exhibition at the Bayfront Park is not to be missed.”
I hope to see you in the audience at an upcoming performance soon.
Phillip P. Lanham is President and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.