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A Festival of Firsts

There’s a new and exciting artistic breeze blowing in Sarasota County and it’s moving in like a front from the north, pushing out the heavy, stagnant air ahead of it. I was first aware of it a couple years ago as the new, young artistic leaders in our community began realizing a different vision for our major organizations. Then last year, with the success of the inaugural Ringling International Art Festival, the “breeze” began to freshen. Here’s the thing – the community seems to be developing a taste for new work, and for those of us who work at providing the community with its artistic content, this is very exciting news indeed.

There’s a new and exciting artistic breeze blowing in Sarasota County and it’s moving in like a front from the north, pushing out the heavy, stagnant air ahead of it. I was first aware of it a couple years ago as the new, young artistic leaders in our community began realizing a different vision for our major organizations. Then last year, with the success of the inaugural Ringling International Art Festival, the “breeze” began to freshen. Here’s the thing – the community seems to be developing a taste for new work, and for those of us who work at providing the community with its artistic content, this is very exciting news indeed.

As a board member of the Sarasota County Arts Council, I’ve been appointed to an advisory committee to the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners charged with developing an annual festival in collaboration with Lord Consulting of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The festival funding is to be seeded with a one-time “windfall” $1 million, earmarked for the Arts that appeared when the County adjusted its accounting process for the Tourist Development funds (meaning the “bed tax.”) Since the notion of the festival grew from a series of meetings with the Sarasota County cultural community, the festival has to end up representing, benefiting and showcasing the cultural community’s breadth and richness. And since the festival’s funding comes from tourist money, it must have the ability to attract an audience from beyond Sarasota County. This has been the challenge. But just last week we stumbled upon an organizing concept for the festival that has exciting implications for us all, including the Hermitage.

Tentatively named the “Festival of Firsts,” the festival will be organized around the concept of “premieres.” The festival work may be world premieres, newly commissioned work, American premieres, Florida premieres – but most importantly, for 3-4 days, Sarasota County’s cultural community will be performing and exhibiting work that the general public has never seen before. Some of that work will be by highly respected creators who attract world-wide attention and the cultural tourists who want to be the first to see it. And it all seems to feed into the new-found interest in new work growing in our community.

The reason this is so meaningful to the Hermitage is that, well, new work is what we do. Major artists come to us from all over the world just to make new work. With the advent of the Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, we are commissioning new work from major creators annually. This work is being created here at the Hermitage, and seeing its first audiences in Sarasota County in the spring and always in collaboration with one of our fine artistic organizations. It’s also the same time of year that we hold the Greenfield dinner and bring celebrated artists to the community to give a major speech about their art. In 2012, when it seems most likely that the festival will begin, the Hermitage will be hosting the premiere exhibition of a new work by one of America’s most important new visual artists, Sanford Biggers. At the same time, Artistic Director Ian Webb and the Sarasota Ballet would like to premiere a new work by internationally-respected choreographer Mathew Bourne. And at the Greenfield dinner that year, we will also be announcing the commissioning of a new work of music to premiere in 2014. Add on a new play or two, a new piece of music, and we have the core for something really exciting happening. It could even give rise to interesting restaurant ideas from the “Sarasota Originals” during the festival. Perhaps a showcase of new homes can coordinate, too.

While there are still many obstacles to overcome and decisions to be made, the concept is fertile and will hopefully grow and evolve. It’s not difficult to “see” how it could work. And that vision is exciting enough to push us through the obstacles. In its heyday, the Humana Festival at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville attracted the world-wide press who wrote about the new plays that were premiered. A special festival weekend filled Louisville hotels and restaurants with theatre fans looking to be the first to see new plays, many of which later ended up on Broadway or in regional theaters, or on film. The Louisville restaurants created special festival menus. It was a big deal, and I attended the festival for many years. Our Festival of Firsts, premiering new work in many art forms, could be a big deal too – a very big deal. Let us know what you think.

Second Annual Greenfield Prize Award Dinner

It was a great night in every way as 250 people jammed Michael’s On East to celebrate Sanford Biggers, visual artist and most recent winner of the Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

It was a great night in every way as 250 people jammed Michael’s On East to celebrate Sanford Biggers, visual artist and most recent winner of the Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. The Keynote speaker was world renowned artist James Rosenquist who made the trip to Sarasota from his home in Aripeka. Rosenquist thrilled the audience with his talk about his work on behalf of artists and the early days in Sarasota; Biggers charmed them with a dazzling smile and kind, friendly words of thanks. And Dan Cameron, a member of the Hermitage National Artist Advisory Committee, enlightened the attentive audience about Bigger’s work and the reason why the committee he chaired awarded the prize to him. It was another beautiful Hermitage evening.

More photos from the evening can be viewed on Flickr

The Alliance of Artist Communities

I’m often asked how many artist communities there are. It’s not an easy number to come by as it depends on how you define an artist community.

I’m often asked how many artist communities there are.  It’s not an easy number to come by as it depends on how you define an artist community.  However, there are over 400 organizational members of the Alliance of Artist Communities. So that gives us a good clue.  And according to the Alliance, there are two qualifications to be an artist community:

  1. Not-for-profit status ( a 501(C)3 designation from the IRS)
  2. A competitive process for admission

Well what is the Alliance of Artist Communities and why do they get to say? 

Almost all arts disciplines have “service organizations” whose mission is to serve and speak for the field.  For example, symphony orchestras have the League of American Orchestras, and not-for-profit theaters have the Theatre Communications Group.  They are industry organizations that have the big picture view of the field they serve.  So our industry organization is the Alliance of Artist Communities, located in Providence, RI.

What do they do?

They convene an annual conference where member organizations gather, attend sessions and panels about topics relevant to the field, and hear guest speakers and keynotes address issues and challenges that all of us in the field face.  These may have to do with fundraising, assessing and meeting community challenges with you organization, different processes for selecting artists, the latest not-for-profit accounting changes that effect artist communities – all kinds of “nuts and bolts” information relevant to our work.  This year the conference is October 20 – 23 in Providence, and you can click HERE to connect to the Alliance conference web page for all the info.  (Everyone is welcome!).

But when the National Endowment for the Arts expressed interest in creating a separate funding category for artist communities, the Endowment approached the Alliance as spokesperson and expert for the field.  Then through this relationship, the Endowment and the Alliance created a new program that addresses our needs, the results of which is dramatically increased funding from the Endowment for artist communities across America.  Last year, the Hermitage received $20,000 of those funds. (Yeah!!!) 

And if you or your cousin or friend down the block wants to start an artist community  – you contact the Alliance.  They have a whole program dedicated to helping new and emerging communities get off the ground.

The Alliance website itself is a huge resources to the communities AND to the individual artists who want to apply to work at a community.  They maintain an extensive, searchable database of American and international artist communities and a paid ($25) membership gives individuals access to the database with a huge variety of search tools to find just the right creative experience.

The Alliance provides many more services, and more than I have time to detail in this post.  I encourage you to explore their website.  Understanding the Alliance will help you understand the field of artist communities like the Hermitage, as a whole.  It’s a rich, tremendously varied field.

Enjoy.

Greenfield Prize Gears Up

No sooner is one Greenfield Prize awarded than the process to select the next one begins. The next prize, to be awarded at the Greenfield Prize Award Dinner on March 27th, 2011, will be a commission for a new play. The special jury to make that selection has been constituted, and the first meeting will be held in the fall.

No sooner is one Greenfield Prize awarded than the process to select the next one begins. The next prize, to be awarded at the Greenfield Prize Award Dinner on March 27th, 2011, will be a commission for a new play. The special jury to make that selection has been constituted, and the first meeting will be held in the fall.

Each prize commission has two years to be completed, and this year the Sarasota Orchestra will premiere Eve Beglarian’s chamber music composition on the evening of March 26th, the evening before the dinner. So save the dates for a Greenfield weekend – a concert on Saturday evening and a celebration dinner with a major national speaker on Sunday. Ahh, life in Sarasota!

A Visit To Anderson Ranch

I made a visit to the Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado while on vacation in July. Anderson Ranch is a sister artist community located on 4.5 beautiful acres just outside of Aspen that focus almost exclusively on the visual arts. Unlike the Hermitage, Anderson Ranch offers a myriad of classes in everything from painting to sculpture to ceramics (with more than 10 kilns of all sizes) to new media, and wood. In addition, they provide about 38 residencies per year for some of the world’s most accomplished artists. It is just a great place to work.

I made a visit to the Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado while on vacation in July. Anderson Ranch is a sister artist community located on 4.5 beautiful acres just outside of Aspen that focus almost exclusively on the visual arts. Unlike the Hermitage, Anderson Ranch offers a myriad of classes in everything from painting to sculpture to ceramics (with more than 10 kilns of all sizes) to new media, and wood. In addition, they provide about 38 residencies per year for some of the world’s most accomplished artists. It is just a great place to work. 

I also got to spend time with the Ranch’s new executive director, Barbara Bloemink who had been on the job about a month but who had clearly settled right into her work. We had a great conversation about the differences between the Hermitage and Anderson Ranch (which are many) and we began to explore opportunities for collaboration between our organizations. While we parted without anything specific, we committed to finding opportunities in the near future.

The Anderson Ranch Art Center is open and very accommodating to visitors on their campus (also unlike the Hermitage) and I encourage anyone finding themselves in the area to go for a visit, their cafeteria is open to the public during the summer. Or go to take a class. While some of the world’s best visual artists go there to work, you don’t have to be a world-class artist to take a class. If you want to spend a week honing your painting technique, or your sculptural eye, or working in “new media,” it’s all possible there. And it’s possible in the most beautiful of settings, and among the most stimulating of colleagues. It’s a great organization. Click HERE to go to their website.

Fellows in the News

Congratulations to Hermitage playwright Elaine Romero whose play, Wetback was selected by the Arkansas Repertory Theatre for inclusion in “Voices At The River,” a new play development program for African American and Latino playwrights. The reading was held on July 16th at the theatre in Little Rock.

Congratulations to Hermitage playwright Elaine Romero whose play, Wetback was selected by the Arkansas Repertory Theatre for inclusion in “Voices At The River,” a new play development program for African American and Latino playwrights. The reading was held on July 16th at the theatre in Little Rock.

Rest and Repair

It’s been a restful summer so far, which has given us (your staff of three) the chance to replenish our batteries while we prepare for a very busy season. At the same time, we’ve been working with Sarasota County as they prepare to help us make some major repairs on the Hermitage House.

It’s been a restful summer so far, which has given us (your staff of three) the chance to replenish our batteries while we prepare for a very busy season. At the same time, we’ve been working with Sarasota County as they prepare to help us make some major repairs on the Hermitage House. Mother Nature is unforgiving and she makes the task of maintaining a wooden beach house under the relentless Florida sun, a real challenge. So we did not schedule artists to be in residence during this time, knowing that hammering and sawing were not so conducive to creativity work. 

However, we will be hosting playwrights James Garcia and Kia Corothron, as well as Sarasota poet Justin Spring in August. They’ve agreed to deal with the noise. When James arrives in August the vacation’s over and we will have artists in residence continuously until next August. So while it doesn’t look like we’ll be repaired by then, we will be rested, and raring to go.

The image is playwright Kia Corothron taken during a previous Hermitage residency.