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Patricia Caswell retires

by Susan Rife, special to the Herald-Tribune (read full article here)
May 19, 2021

Caswell, who for 17 years was head of the Sarasota County Arts Council (now the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County), will retire from her position at the Hermitage on her birthday, Monday.

The Hermitage would not exist if not for Caswell, who in the late 1990s saw the need to preserve the ramshackle beach shacks on Manasota Key and who, along with art collector and philanthropist Syd Adler, first envisioned the collection of buildings, which dated to the early 20th century, as a place where artists could gather to create new works.

Adler and Caswell became co-founders of the modern Hermitage, supervising the restoration of four of the original five buildings on the property. Originally under the auspices of the Arts Council, the Hermitage eventually spun off as its own entity. 

But the retreat is not simply a place where artists come from New York or Chicago to create new work. It’s also the site of frequent public performances, poetry readings on the beach and the like, which former Executive Director Bruce Rodgers initially thought was a crazy idea.

“She would come up with ideas that I would say, oh, that would never work, and of course, they did,” said Rodgers. “Performances on the beach: That was her idea.”

[Caswell will] miss “the extraordinary artists that have been there, and spending time with them. This is a very special thing that just a few of us got to do, because they were there to work. The evenings there were like a Paris salon with Gertrude Stein. We had Nico Muhly, he sat there around the table, talking to us about what it was like to be a young guy, a young composer, whose piece had been chosen by the Metropolitan Opera, him not understanding their traditions, them deferring all these decisions to the ‘maestro,’ all these stories inside the guts of the Metropolitan Opera.”

READ THE FULL HERALD-TRIBUNE ARTICLE HERE.

Playwright Aleshea Harris Celebrated at Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner on April 11

More than 130 guests gathered to celebrate playwright Aleshea Harris, the winner of the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize, on Sunday, April 11, at the annual Prize Dinner at Michael’s On East in Sarasota. The event had been moved earlier that day from its original outdoor setting at The Ringling’s Ca’ d’Zan due to inclement weather. The festive evening was chaired by Ellen Berman and Flora Major. Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage, served as master of ceremonies.

“Neither rain nor sleet nor any tropical storm was going to stop us from finding a way to celebrate Aleshea Harris as the winner of this year’s Hermitage Greenfield Prize!” noted Sandberg in true show-must-go-on fashion. “While the change of venue was an unexpected surprise, we were determined to forge ahead with this very special evening of entertainment and celebration. We thank everyone at The Ringling Museum and Michael’s On East for their shared commitment to the safety and comfort of our guests. The adoration, respect, and joy in honor of Aleshea were truly palpable, and we are so grateful to the Greenfield Foundation and all of our sponsors for their generous support.”

(L-R) Andy Sandberg, Ellen Berman, Flora Major, Aleshea Harris

“The evening was full of irrepressible energy and talent,” added co-chairs Ellen Berman and Flora Major. “Aleshea Harris is a powerful presence, and the crowd was alive with enthusiasm. The whole event was a seamless and stunning success, and the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner has been transformed into one of the most entertaining evenings in town, capturing the true spirit of diversity and talent of the Hermitage and its artists.”

The festive evening commenced with a welcome video from Black Theatre United, featuring the music video “Stand for Change,” with a personal message of welcome and words of congrats to Harris from acclaimed actor and producer Tamara Tunie (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; As the World Turns) on behalf of her fellow BTU co-founders: six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Wendell Pierce, and more. The evening also showcased a tribute video featuring brand-new footage from thirteen years of Hermitage Greenfield Prize recipients, jurors, and presenting partners. Excerpts from Harris’ work On Sugarland were brought to life on stage by Ive Lyles (Westcoast Black Theater Troupe) and Imani Williams (Asolo Conservatory, pictured below). Following the presentation of the award to Ms. Harris, Sandberg introduced a stirring rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” performed by Broadway and Sarasota’s own Ann Morrison and accompanied by Joseph Holt on piano to conclude the celebration. “How fitting the metaphor of Sondheim’s lyrics – especially after this year!” exclaimed Morrison.

Hermitage continues to blossom

by Kim Cool, Venice Gondolier (read full article here)
January 20, 2021

In my 25 years at this newspaper, I have received the equivalent of a few more college degrees, especially in history and the arts.

And as the Gondolier moves toward its 75th anniversary in March, it has been fun to look back at stories I have covered, places I have visited and sadly, even a few that have gone.

At least part of the old Cypress Gardens remains at Legoland, which even replicated its ladies in hoop-skirted gowns but made entirely of Legos. The old Banyan Theatre Company and MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry in Sarasota have both come and gone. While I wasn’t here for its arrival, the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre dropped its curtain for the last time after about 40 years but with the title of longest-running dinner theater in the country.

But nothing has captured my interest as much the creation of the Hermitage Artist Retreat on Manasota Key.

It was created from a collection of buildings on a 3.5-acre site in 2000, when the Sarasota County Arts Council spearheaded the move with other cultural institutions, area residents and county officials who had plans to seek grants from the Venice Foundation (now the Gulf Coast Community Foundation) and the state.

When my first article about the site on Manasota Key appeared … on July 8, 2000, the founders hoped for a 2002 opening and the arrival of their first resident artist.

While the site is not open to daily visitors there are many opportunities throughout the year to visit the site for concerts at the beach, readings in the former garage or other events. Hermitage artists also have gone out into the community to present programs such as the late playwright Romulus Linney (father of actress Laura Linney) who, with Venice Theatre executive producing director Murray Chase, spoke about playwriting and theater some years ago when he was a Hermitage Fellow.

For those of us lucky enough to live in this area, the Hermitage is more proof of the kind of neighbors we have.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Theater artist Aleshea Harris wins 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize

On Monday, January 11, Aleshea Harris received the news of her win via Zoom.

The Hermitage Artist Retreat, in collaboration with the Greenfield Foundation, has selected OBIE-winning playwright Aleshea Harris as the winner of the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize, given this year in the artistic discipline of theater. Harris will receive a six-week residency at the Hermitage and a $30,000 commission for a new work, which will have its first public presentation in Sarasota in 2023 in collaboration with the Hermitage’s presenting partner, Asolo Repertory Theatre.

Jury Chair Mandy Greenfield stated, “Aleshea’s stunning body of work, including Is God Is and What to Send Up When It Goes Down, already distinguishes her as one of our most exquisite and fearless American playwrights. Her brilliant imagination, vast intellect, and innate theatricality guarantees a limitless future for her work and its impact. It was an honor to serve as a juror alongside distinguished theater-makers Nataki Garrett and Robert O’Hara. The Hermitage Greenfield Prize is a rare and special award that values and supports playwrights for their unique ability to reach and transform audiences. We celebrate Aleshea Harris; finalists Donja R. Love, Nikkole Salter, and Whitney White; the Hermitage Artist Retreat; and the Greenfield Foundation for the beautiful community it brings together with this prize.” 

Aleshea Harris’s play Is God Is (directed by Taibi Magar at Soho Rep) won the 2016 Relentless Award, an OBIE Award for playwriting in 2017, the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award in 2019, was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and made The Kilroys’ List of “the most recommended un and underproduced plays by trans and female authors of color” for 2017. What to Send Up When It Goes Down (directed by Whitney White, produced by The Movement Theatre Company), a play-pageant-ritual response to anti-Blackness, had its critically-acclaimed NYC premiere in 2018, was featured in the April 2019 issue of American Theatre Magazineand was nominated for a Drama Desk award. 

Harris will be celebrated at the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner, an outdoor event at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, on Sunday, April 11, 2021. For more information about this event, click here.

Read more about the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize here.

Champions of Hermitage, Nelda & Jim Thompson, celebrated

This year’s Artful Lobster weekend included a special tribute event: a celebration of the legacy of longtime champions of the Hermitage and Manasota Key, Nelda and Jim Thompson. Approximately 40 guests gathered at sunset on the beach for this elegant and intimate celebration that included a tribute video featuring appearances by friends and fans, including honorary co-chairs Rebecca Cook and Bernard Dickens and Warren and Brammie Cook; Michael Saunders; and tennis legend and longtime friend Martina Navratilova. The event also featured a moment of celebration and light in memory of Jim Thompson, and a surprise visit from the Florida Gator. The John Miller Jazz Ensemble Trio provided the entertainment for the evening, and an unannounced performance from Ralph Farris delighted the guests.

Upcoming outdoor beach programs

The Hermitage Artist Retreat’s popular beachfront series continues with “The Making of a Musical,” November 23, 5 p.m., with composer and music director Rona Siddiqui; and “Illuminating the Transcendent,” Friday, December 4, 5 p.m., with composers Krists Auznieks and Robert Pound and poet Jason Schneiderman. These outdoor, beachside events are at the Hermitage, 6660 Manasota Key Road, Englewood.

Admission is free but registration is required. To learn more about these programs and to register, click here. Capacity is limited to accommodate safe social distancing, so early reservations are recommended. Masks are strongly encouraged.

“The relaunch of our Hermitage programs has been received with such appreciation from our audiences,” notes Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “Now that we’ve found a safe way to move forward with socially-distanced outdoor events – as audiences experienced recently on our beachfront campus as well as our recent event at Selby Gardens – we are honored to continue this series with four more extraordinary artists-in-residence. These renowned Hermitage Fellows provide members of our community with a unique look into the creative process, frequently debuting new works and inviting Hermitage audiences to be the first to experience their works-in-progress.”

Ralph Farris to headline Artful Lobster

Ralph Farris, a Hermitage Fellow and founding violist and artistic director of the genre-bending string quartet ETHEL, will headline the Hermitage Artist Retreat’s signature fall fundraising event, The Artful Lobster: An Outdoor Celebration!

Ralph is a Juilliard-trained, multi-instrumentalist performer, music director, curator, composer, arranger, and record producer. He is a tireless collaborator, whether working as an individual, or as a founding member and artistic director of ETHEL, the genre-bending string quartet described by The New York Times as “indefatigable and eclectic,” and by The New Yorker as “vital and brilliant.” That spirit has led to collaborations with a who’s-who of rock stars, filmmakers, choreographers, educators, stage directors, and poets. Farris has said that his favorite place to compose is at the Hermitage and has even composed work inspired by Manasota Key. For more information, visit RalphFarris.com.

“We are all incredibly excited to have Ralph Farris returning to the Hermitage to perform at this year’s Artful Lobster,” says Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “Ralph is one of the first artists I had the pleasure to meet and hear perform upon arriving at the Hermitage. He is a brilliant composer and performer, and our audience is in for a real treat!”

For more information about Artful Lobster: An Outdoor Celebration!, click here.

Hermitage welcomes Amy Wallace as development director

The Hermitage Artist Retreat has welcomed Amy Wallace as the organization’s development director. Wallace joins the organization after serving for six years at New College Foundation.

“Amidst an impressive pool of candidates from around the country, Amy stood out as a clear leader and an extraordinary addition to the Hermitage team,” says Andy Sandberg. “We are thrilled – and fortunate – to welcome Amy as development director. With her impressive experience in fundraising and institutional advancement, her forward-thinking outlook on philanthropy, and her passion for our mission to support artists and the creative process, Amy is going to play a vital role in the bright future of the Hermitage.”

Wallace brings a wide range of development experience, spending the last six years at New College Foundation in a variety of roles, including prospect research, donor relations, and database management prior to her fundraising role as director of philanthropy. She spent many years in corporate financial services and human resources before transitioning to a career in nonprofit development and philanthropy. She is a member of the Association of Donor Relations Professionals and a member of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Wallace graduated from the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in political science. 

The Hermitage is also pleased to welcome Emily Lane as its grants manager. Lane is a fourth-generation Floridian with a deep connection to the arts, and her career has included higher education, museums, and arts institutions, where she raised millions of dollars for arts, education, scientific and environmental projects, as well as capital campaigns. She spent nearly 15 years at Selby Gardens before starting her own consulting and grants practice.

Hermitage and Selby Gardens announce “Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens”

The Hermitage Artist Retreat and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens announce a new collaboration, “Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens,” launching with a five-program series as part of the 2020-2021 season. The outdoor series features performances and talks by Hermitage artists-in-residence and alumni. Four will take place at Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus; one will be at Selby Gardens Historic Spanish Point campus. The series premieres with “Triple Current: Music of Arabia & America,” featuring the celebrated composer, santur player, jazz trumpeter and vocalist Amir ElSaffar, on Friday, October 23, 6 p.m., on the northern grounds of the Selby Gardens Event Center. Admission is free for all programs, but registration is required. Capacity will be limited to accommodate safe social distancing, so early reservations are recommended. Masks are strongly encouraged.

The complete roster of event dates in the inaugural season of “Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens” include:

~ Friday, October 23, 6 p.m., at Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus (at the northern grounds of the Events Center)
~ Friday, January 22, 5:30 p.m., at Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus
~ Wednesday, February 24, 6 p.m., at Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus; part of Selby Gardens’ “Lichtenstein Nights” concert series  
~ Wednesday, March 3, 6 p.m., at Historic Spanish Point
~ A date in May to be announced, at Selby Gardens

For more information, click here.

Outdoor Beach Programs Return Oct. 9!

The Hermitage Artist Retreat announces the return of its popular beachfront series with “Genius Loci: A Sense of Place in Story, Music, & Poetry,” Friday, October 9, 6 p.m., at the Hermitage Beach, 6660 Manasota Key Road, Englewood. This outdoor event features three Hermitage artists-in-residence: composer and bassist Michael Kurth, poet Lynnell Edwards, and author Justin Torres. In Edwards’ book of poetry This Great Green Valley and Torres’ book and film We the Animals, each captures the sense of place of their childhoods. Composer and bassist Michael Kurth, meanwhile, defines his place as the bottom staff of an orchestral score. The artistic realms include music, film, and the spoken and written word. In every realm, each artist has created a place of their own. As the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico, Edwards and Torres will read from their celebrated works, and Kurth will delight audiences with his string bass and bass ukulele.

Admission is free but registration is required. To learn more about this program and to register, click here. Capacity will be limited to accommodate safe social distancing, so early reservations are recommended. Masks are strongly encouraged.

“We are beyond excited to welcome audiences back to the Hermitage with the return of our outdoor beach series,” notes Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “Over the past few months, we have put tremendous thought and care into figuring out how to safely return to live programming while expanding our digital offerings, so that we can continue to build connections between our Hermitage Fellows and this extraordinary community.” The Hermitage resumed its artist residency program in July, with new social-distancing measures in place.

This outdoor event is the first of many programs and collaborations throughout the season, spanning Sarasota County and the surrounding region. The Hermitage will offer both live outdoor programs and virtual offerings throughout the year featuring celebrated playwrights, visual artists, musicians, poets, and more—all free to the members of our community.