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Hermitage welcomes Edward Swan, Jr. to board; Robyn Citrin elected president

The Hermitage Artist Retreat announced today that Robyn Citrin has been elected as the new president of the Hermitage Board of Trustees. Citrin succeeds Leslie Edwards, who concludes her term as president and will remain on the Hermitage board. The Hermitage also welcomes Edward Swan, Jr. as a new member of the Board of Trustees. In addition, Hermitage trustee Ellen Berman has been elected to the position of secretary, while David Green and Steve Adler will continue in their respective roles as vice president and treasurer.

“I am looking forward to collaborating with Robyn in her new role as president. She is one of the Hermitage’s most vibrant champions, and her passion and commitment for the mission of the organization are truly inspiring,” says Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “We are also incredibly excited to welcome Ed Swan to the Hermitage board. He has been a wonderful champion of the Hermitage; his experience, intelligence, and thoughtful creativity will be invaluable to the organization’s continued growth and success. I must give tremendous thanks to Leslie Edwards for her partnership and friendship; she is a vital member of the Hermitage family and has shepherded the organization through significant growth and change over the years.”

Robyn Citrin has lived in the Sarasota area for the past 12 years. She was elected to the Hermitage board in 2019 and has served as its secretary since January of 2020; she is also a graduate of the Gulf Coast Board Institute. Citrin is a former nurse practitioner, who began her career as a psychiatric nurse in New York City, and subsequently worked in obstetrics and gynecology in Denver. She has a master’s degree in nursing leadership. Citron’s volunteer work in Colorado included the Children’s Diabetes Foundation and the Junior Symphony Guild. Since moving to Osprey in 2009, Citrin has volunteered with the Literacy Council of Sarasota, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the Oaks Women’s Club (OWC), for which she has been a past board president. She has also been a champion of the OWC’s scholarship program. Citrin and her husband are collectors of Japanese woodblock prints and have been involved with the Ringling Museum of Art’s Asian art collection.

Edward M. Swan, Jr. lives in Sarasota and spends part of the year on Martha’s Vineyard. Swan has more than 35 years of experience in institutional investment management with many of the nation’s largest pension funds among his clients. He has served on corporate and not-for-profit boards, including Tufts and Dillard universities, and The Ringling. He has previously been involved with the Hermitage as an active member of both the outreach and education committee and the marketing committee. Swan has a longstanding interest in the arts and community service and has volunteered at several Sarasota schools, developing programs designed to help lower income students understand what they need to do to be successful in high school and beyond. Swan received a BA from Tufts University and an MBA from the Wharton School. He also attended the director development program at the Kellogg School (Northwestern University) and was a captain in the US Air Force.

The Hermitage’s board officers for the 2021-2022 season are: Robyn Citrin, president; David Green, vice president; Steve Adler, treasurer; and Ellen Berman, secretary. The Hermitage Board of Trustees also includes Christine Boone, Susan Brainerd, Maryann Casey, Carole Crosby, Marletta Darnall, Leslie Edwards, Laura Kaminsky, Tina Shao Napoli, Michael Pender, Charlotte Perret, Edward M. Swan, Jr., Nelda Thompson, Mary Lou Winnick, and Andy Sandberg, Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO (ex-officio).

Hermitage Major Theater Award announced

Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, announced the establishment of the Hermitage Major Theater Award, a new annual prize that will recognize a playwright or theater artist with a commission of $35,000 to create an original piece of theater. In addition to the commission, the recipient of this annual award will receive a residency at the Hermitage to develop the new work and will also receive a reading or workshop in a leading arts and cultural center such as New York, London, Chicago, or Los Angeles. This initiative is made possible by a multi-year gift from Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation to the Hermitage, starting with a commitment of $800,000.

Like the Hermitage Greenfield Prize – which will soon be celebrating its 14th season and rotates annually between the disciplines of music, theater, and visual art – the winner of the Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA) will be nominated and selected by a jury of nationally recognized arts leaders in the field of theater. The new work will be developed and created in Sarasota at the Hermitage’s historic campus, and the commission will additionally receive a workshop or reading in a notable arts and cultural hub; it is anticipated that the first year will be in New York. The inaugural jury and HMTA recipient will be selected and announced in the coming months, and it is anticipated that the first commission will be completed in 2022.

In the spirit of the Hermitage’s commitment to the arts across multiple disciplines, finalists for the Hermitage Major Theater Award will be encouraged to create a commission that directly or indirectly represents the role and impact of art – musical, literary, theatrical, visual, or otherwise – in our culture and society. This distinguished recognition is not an award for an existing work, but rather it is designed as a commission that shall serve as a catalyst and inspiration to a theater artist to create a new, original, and impactful piece of theater.

Further, the prize is intended to bridge the connection between Sarasota County, where the original work is created, and other leading arts and culture centers around the world. This continued involvement in the creative development of its artists’ work beyond our region is a new step for the Hermitage, empowering this vital arts organization to strengthen relationships and build meaningful collaborations with leading cultural institutions in arts capitals worldwide.

“This award will be transformational for its recipients – providing not only significant funds and recognition, but also invaluable time, space, and inspiration at the Hermitage, as well as an opportunity to showcase their work,” says Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage. “Coming out of this period when the theater industry has been largely shut down, it is particularly exciting to be able to offer a gift and an opportunity like this to a theater artist. Moreover, it is a gift to the theatrical canon when you consider that each year, a brand-new work will be created as a result of this award.” 

Additionally, in providing generous support for the Hermitage for its core operations and programs, Sandberg adds that this leadership gift by Flora Major and The Kutya Major Foundation is invaluable to building long-term, sustainable support for an organization committed to the creation and development of bold and impactful new works. 

“It is exciting to support an organization that is so deeply committed to supporting new and original work,” adds Flora Major. “The Hermitage is reaching new heights under Andy’s leadership, and with a shared passion for the theater, I know that he will make something extraordinary out of this award. Anyone who values and appreciates the arts, across all disciplines, needs to invest in supporting artists in the earliest stages of their creative process – that is what the Hermitage does so well.”

Sandberg adds that the prize will build bridges between the Hermitage and Sarasota County, where the commissions will be born, and other leading arts and culture centers, including New York, London, and Chicago, where great theater is frequently developed and presented. “This award will offer the Gulf Coast community the chance to birth and introduce this new work of theater to the world, making a lasting impact on the broader artistic landscape, increasing the visibility of the Hermitage’s impact in other cultural centers, and emphasizing the global perspective of the bold new works being created on Manasota Key.”

Flora Major, founder and trustee of the Kutya Major Foundation, moved to Sarasota in 2005 and immediately became involved in the art and social life of the region. Originally from Hungary, Major was a successful entrepreneur in the telecommunication business in New York and in the textile industry in North Carolina. She has served on several not-for-profit boards through the years, including Duke University Eye Center, Duke University Museum of Art, North Carolina Museum of Art, the Advisory Board of Lenox Hill Hospital, Sarasota Orchestra, Asolo Repertory Theater, the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States, and the Designing Women’s Boutique for Arts and Humanities. Major currently serves on the Foundation Board of Isothermal Community College, the board of the Ringling College of Art and Design, the advisory board of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, and the Council for the Arts at MIT. She has chaired numerous charity events, and she served as co-chair of the Hermitage Artist Retreat’s 2020 Artful Lobster and the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner.

“I have been so inspired by the Hermitage Greenfield Prize and have seen the transformative effects of the Greenfield Foundation’s generous commitment to the Hermitage,” adds Major. “I hope this new initiative will inspire others who are passionate about the arts to recognize and support the important work that the Hermitage is doing.” 

Top picture: Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg and Flora Major at announcement event for Hermitage Major Theater Award. Second picture: Flora Major. Photo credit: Bywater Collective/The Hermitage Artist Retreat

Hermitage receives $260,000 in grants for historic preservation, artist impact

The Hermitage Artist Retreat recently received two major grants that will be directed to historic preservation efforts and artist impact in the community. The organization received $110,000 from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, Inc., to assist with the restoration and rehabilitation of the historic Hermitage House. The Hermitage also received a $150,000 grant from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation for its “Artist Impact SRQ” initiative, an expansion of the Hermitage’s growing community outreach and education programs, enhancing the Hermitage’s support for its artists and broadening the organization’s reach and impact in schools and underserved communities.

The Hermitage House was originally built in 1907 and is the only property on Manasota Key on the National Register of Historic Places. The Selby Foundation’s grant will directly support the repair and restoration of the foundations supporting the Hermitage House. “This vital historic property is not only an iconic building on Manasota Key, but it is central to our organization, our residency program, and our artists,” says Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “We greatly appreciate the Selby Foundation for their generosity and for recognizing the importance of preserving this cornerstone of our historic campus.” 

Carol Butera, President and CEO of the Selby Foundation, adds: “The restoration and care of the historic Hermitage House, dating back to 1907, is essential to ensuring many decades of continued success for the Hermitage as a leading arts and cultural institution in our community.” 

While the Hermitage is known for its historic beachfront campus, the organization is also recognized for its expansive community programming. “As our programs and collaborations continue to evolve and expand throughout our region, we are excited to build bridges to new audiences, and also to share the extraordinary educational impact of our programs with the students in our community,” says Sandberg. “This generous gift from Barancik Foundation is going to allow us to provide more support and resources to the diverse and accomplished Hermitage artists who are making a meaningful and lasting impact in our community.”

“It’s time to reimagine how we engage students who have historically been underserved by the arts,” says Teri A Hansen, President/CEO of Barancik Foundation. “This support allows the Hermitage to expand its deeply rooted connection with the community and involve more young minds.”

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.