Artists returning to Hermitage Artist Retreat

by Jay Handelman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 3, 2020

Like so many other arts organizations and businesses across the country, the Hermitage Artist Retreat essentially shut down in March as the coronavirus began to spread. But staff and work crews have been busy making adjustments to allow a variety of writers, visual artists, musicians and others to start returning this month.

The retreat, a collection of buildings and historic cottages on Manasota Key, provides a temporary home for artists to develop new projects or just to get away from the everyday work and life issues that get in the way of the creative process.

Hermitage fellows, who are selected by a curatorial council of experts in the performing, visual and literary arts, stay in historic but private cottages on the beach. They have sleeping and studio space and areas where they can talk or share meals with other artists also staying there.

“We are fortunate in the way the campus is set up in that it is naturally built for social distancing,” said Andy Sandberg, who took over last fall as the organization’s artistic director and CEO.

During the downtime, the cottages were enhanced to include individual refrigerator freezers, microwaves and toaster ovens to make it possible for artists to work and eat without having to share a communal kitchen for meals.

They will still be able to meet with other artists in outdoor settings, which health officials say is generally a safer environment and reduces the risk of spreading the virus.

“Unfortunately, they can’t have that kitchen huddle experience at the moment, but we’re finding ways to get our artists together socially,” Sandberg said. Typically, new groups of artists are treated to a welcome beach dinner and Sandberg said the staff is working out safe seating arrangements for such events.

The schedule of artists slated to visit Englewood had to be reset because of the closure. Artists are generally offered up to six weeks over a two-year period for their residencies. They also are required to take part in at least two public programs during their residency, sometimes done in conjunction with other area arts organizations.

Sandberg said that part of the program also is being reevaluated and may temporarily incorporate more online events, conversations and discussions, or presentations outdoors on the beach.

“Audiences have indicated their comfort in doing things outdoors as something they might do sooner rather than huddling inside,” he said.

Helga Davis, the 2019 winner of the Greenfield Prize, which is administered by the Hermitage, and curator Eric Booth, one of the curatorial council members, recently spent time on site “to tell us what’s working and how to best exercise these practices,” Sandberg said.

Residencies resume this week with the annual visit of Florida arts educators selected through the State Teacher/Artist Residency program. “They are sort of the beginning of our new season,” Sandberg said.

The Hermitage Curatorial Council, made up of 14 distinguished arts leaders from across the country, is compiling updated lists of people they recommend for residencies. Artists do not apply for stays at the Hermitage.

Among the council artists are Booth, a leader in arts education in the nation; Valerie Cassel Oliver [pictured], the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; flutist Claire Chase; Christopher Burney, artistic director of New York Stage and Film at Vassar; Emily Mann, the playwright and director who recently ended a long tenure as artistic director of the McCarter Theatre Centre in Princeton, N.J.; and Robert Spano, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

“They shape everything we do here” by selecting new lists of fellows, said Sandberg. “They are experts in their field and they have a commitment to identifying artists who are creating bold, dynamic and diverse work.”

The Hermitage has increased its budget to more than $1 million annually (from about $750,000), and the organization received some significant contributions toward meeting that goal, including $300,000 through a couple of matching gift challenges.

That money helped to make up some of the revenue the organization lost from the cancellation of its annual Greenfield Prize weekend dinner and related events in the spring. It has announced that its yearly Artful Lobster picnic will be held Nov. 14 on the Hermitage grounds, and the next Greenfield Prize Dinner is scheduled for April 11 at Michael’s On East.

Sandberg said the budget was increased because the Hermitage plans to expand its programming staff while providing more opportunities for collaborations with area arts organizations and for the public to meet visiting fellows and better understand how the organization works.

One of those new collaborations was announced last week. “UNSCRIPTED: Arts from the Inside Out,” a partnership with the Van Wezel Foundation, will give audiences an inside look at the creative process as shared by Hermitage fellows from around the world.

Sandberg said the audience will never know “exactly what to expect or what they will experience, creating a sense of mystery and anticipation for each gathering.”

The series is expected to begin this summer with initial programs offered as a bonus to Hermitage and Foundation supporters. Some performances will be made available for streaming online to the public.

ETHEL quartet puts “Circus,” conceived at Hermitage, online

This article appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on May 3, 2020.

Sarasota’s circus heritage and photos from The Ringling archives provided the inspiration for the world premiere of “Circus: Wandering City” by the string quartet ETHEL at Historic Asolo Theater in 2018.

The production, which The Ringling co-commissioned with the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2018 Next Wave Festival, was presented for a weekend in Sarasota in January 2018. But now, the acclaimed quartet is making it available for streaming for free while the museum and live performance venues are shut down.

“Circus: Wandering City” will be available beginning at 3 p.m. Friday at ethelcentral.org. It also can be viewed through The Ringling’s website, Ringling.org or its social media sites.

The performance incorporates hundreds of images from the Ringling’s Circus Museum archives, which are set to original compositions by quartet members, who were inspired by the photos.

The idea for a circus-themed show came in 2015 when the ensemble members had a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat and performed their show “Documerica,” which was inspired by photos of environmental disasters from the Environmental Protection Agency’s files.

Dwight Currie, who was then Ringling’s curator for performance, suggested that Ringling’s circus photos might inspire a similar but different performance.

“I was just saying how evocative I find the images in the circus archives, and very little of it is actually on exhibit,” Currie told the Herald-Tribune before the 2018 premiere. “It’s just so foreign you just can’t help but imagine this and that. I said, how great would that be?”

The ensemble members agreed.

Cellist Dorothy Lawson said the “subject of the circus is so full of the highest and deepest aspirations of the human spirit.”

The performance is a collection of vignettes performed by Lawson, Ralph Farris on viola and violinists Kip Jones and Corin Lee.

Herald-Tribune music critic Gayle Williams described it as an “immersive, nonstop rollout of an extraordinary docu-music-theater experience,” adding that it is “an incredibly imaginative creation owing to the vision and talents of an entire team of collaborators.”

Hermitage receives $100,000 matching pledge in response to COVID-19 crisis

At a time when arts groups are facing financial challenges because of revenue losses triggered by the coronavirus, the Hermitage Artist Retreat is getting some extra support.

The Cook family, neighbors and supporters of the artist retreat on Manasota Key, have committed to matching all donations to the organization up to $100,000 through June 30.

“Rebecca Cook and her brother, Warren Cook and their family have been part of the Hermitage family and they really believe in the community and the mission of what we do on both the artistic side and the preservation of the land and nature,” said Andy Sandberg, the artistic director and CEO of the Hermitage.

The fundraising period for the matching grant covers this year’s 24-hour Giving Challenge, scheduled for noon April 28 to noon April 29, when the Patterson Foundation will also match the first $100 of every donation to any registered nonprofits.

“If someone gives $100, that gift will turn into $300 because it will be matched by both the Cooks and the Patterson Foundation,” Sandberg said. “We hope in a tricky time with the virus that this special gift will inspire people to get involved. If the creative process is stalled and isn’t allowed to find a way forward, it will be hard to find a way to production and performance and publication.”

The Hermitage owns several beachfront cottages where playwrights, composers, choreographers, painters and other artists are invited to spend six weeks over two years working on projects or just using the time to clear their minds. They are required to take part in two public programs during their residency.

The list of Hermitage fellows includes Pulitzer Prize winners, MacArthur Fellowship award winners, as well as winners and nominees of Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Academy awards.

The Hermitage also administers the annual Greenfield Prize, which provides a $30,000 commission to visual artists, playwrights and composers on a rotating basis. The virus forced the Hermitage to cancel this year’s Greenfield Prize weekend, which annually generates donations and attention.

“The visibility of our program is what inspires people to get behind the organization, and the Greenfield weekend is a big contributor to that,” Sandberg said.

Some past Hermitage fellows have reached out to the organization and offered testimonial videos of support.

Doug Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “I Am My Own Wife,” said the Hermitage afforded him “solace, hospitality, and natural beauty to write. I was able to sit with my thoughts and forge them like raw clay into something approximating art — that’s the great gift of the Hermitage.”

And director and playwright Emily Mann, longtime artistic director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., describes the Hermitage as “one of my favorite places on earth.” Mann said this is a time to reflect on why art matters and the Hermitage “lets artists dream and think deeply about the truth.”

Sandberg said the staff and board of the Hermitage is aware that the vital and impactful work of the artists who spend time at the retreat “may seem less urgent when compared to the matters of life and death amidst this horrible pandemic. Still, the arts and the creative spirit are part of what make our lives so meaningful and special.”

He said the staff is working on programming and residencies for artists to spend time on Manasota Key for the 2020-21 season.

“We are planning with the same momentum as other organizations that are announcing new seasons, and we are still strategizing for the future and how we can rise stronger than ever on the other side of this.”

This article appeared in the Herald-Tribune, April 12, 2020.

Jennifer Packer wins 2020 Greenfield Prize

The Hermitage Artist Retreat, in collaboration with the Greenfield Foundation, has selected New York-based artist Jennifer Packer as the winner of the 2020 Greenfield Prize, given this year in the field of visual art. Packer will receive a six-week residency at the Hermitage and a $30,000 commission for a new work, which will premiere in Sarasota in 2022 with the Hermitage’s presenting partner, The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

Jennifer Packer creates expressionist portraits, interior scenes, and still lifes that suggest a casual intimacy. Packer views her works as the result of an authentic encounter and exchange. The models for her portraits—commonly friends or family members—are relaxed and seemingly unaware of the artist’s or viewer’s gaze. Packer’s paintings are rendered in loose line and brush stroke using a limited color palette, often to the extent that her subject merges with or retreats into the background. Suggesting an emotional and psychological depth, her work is enigmatic, avoiding a straightforward reading. “I think about images that resist, that attempt to retain their secrets or maintain their composure, that put you to work,” she explains. “I hope to make works that suggest how dynamic and complex our lives and relationships really are.”

A Lesson in Longing, 2019, oil on canvas, 108 x 144 inches

Born in 1984 in Philadelphia, Packer received her BFA from the Tyler University School of Art at Temple University in 2007, and her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2012. She was the 2012-2013 Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and a Visual Arts Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, from 2014-2016. Packer currently lives and works in New York and is an assistant professor in the painting department at RISD.

Packer will receive her award at the Greenfield Prize Award Dinner on Sunday, April 19, 6 p.m., at Michael’s On East, 1212 East Avenue South, in Sarasota.

Hermitage featured in WEDU Arts Plus season premiere

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is featured in WEDU’s season nine premiere of “Arts Plus.” Click here to watch the episode – we’re the first segment.

Interviews include artistic director/CEO Andy Sandberg, co-founder/program director Patricia Caswell, and artists-in residence Claire Chase, Christopher Merrill, and Sid Richardson.

Andy Sandberg appointed artistic director and CEO

Following an extensive national search, the board of the Hermitage Artist Retreat announced today that the organization has chosen Andy Sandberg as its artistic director and chief executive officer. Sandberg is an accomplished director, writer, and Tony Award-winning producer, whose national and international career has been committed to new work and artist development.

Click here to read the full announcement and learn more about Andy. Events to introduce Andy to the community will be announced at a later date.

A Letter to the Community
Andy Sandberg
Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer
The Hermitage Artist Retreat

Dear Hermitage Friends, Colleagues, Neighbors, and Alumni,

I am honored to lead the Hermitage into the next chapter of its history. Throughout my career, I have been an advocate for new work, and the Hermitage provides artists an invaluable opportunity to nurture bold ideas while planting the seeds for great works of art to sprout up around the country and throughout the world. I have been fortunate to work with so many brilliant artists over the years as a director, writer, and producer, and I am incredibly excited to be appointed the artistic director and CEO of the Hermitage, an organization that shares my longstanding commitment to artistic growth and the development of new work.

I look forward to being part of this extraordinary tradition and working with a brilliant and diverse group of artists across multiple disciplines to achieve their goals. The unique experience that the Hermitage offers is essential to our artistic landscape. The original and impactful works created at the Hermitage are going on to renowned theaters, concert halls, and galleries throughout the United States and across multiple continents.

It is a privilege to work with the board of trustees, the dedicated Hermitage staff, and our regional partners as we plan for the future of this great organization. I am grateful to Bruce Rodgers for his years of unwavering leadership, and I am eager to build on the organization’s impressive history while also reimagining what’s possible for the Hermitage in the years ahead. As we look to expand the Hermitage’s reach and impact, building new partnerships and relationships for the company, I am energized by and deeply committed to our core mission – to inspire the artists of our time.

Thank you for welcoming me into your community and into the Hermitage family.

Sincerely,
Andy Sandberg

Hermitage offers four free community programs in December

The first of the Hermitage’s free December programs is “Poem, Play and Novel: Three Readings,” with poet Greg Wrenn, playwright Sharyn Rothstein, and novelist Sugi Ganeshananthan, Friday, December 13, 4:30 p.m., on the beach at the Hermitage. Wrenn, a lifelong scuba diver, will give a reading from his eco memoir centered around the ocean. Rothstein, a playwright and television writer, will read from one of her many works. Ganeshananthan will read from her novel in progress, Movement, which tracks a medic-turned-doctor during and after the Sri Lankan civil war. Audience members are welcome to bring blankets and chairs; in case of rain, the event will be moved inside. Click for reservations.

Violinist and freestyle composition artist Mazz Swift (pictured) will perform an informal concert on Friday, December 20, 4:30 p.m., in the Palm House at the Hermitage. She’ll play works in progress, songs of resistance, spirituals, modern day protest music, and share her thoughts on the Ghanaian concept of “Sankofa,” or looking back to learn how to move forward. This will be followed by an opt-in group exploration of conduction (conducted improvisation). No musical, improvisational, or conduction experience is necessary for participation. Musicians are welcome to bring their instruments. Click for reservations.

Hermitage North returns featuring an open class with mime artist Bill Bowers, Saturday, December 21, 11 a.m., in the Jane B. Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for Performing Arts. Hailed by critics as the most accomplished and renowned mime of his generation, Bowers performs and teaches the art of physical storytelling throughout the world. He is also an award-winning actor and has appeared on the stages of Broadway, The Kennedy Center, The White House, La MaMa, the New York International Fringe Festival and many other venues. In this program, Bowers will demonstrate basic pantomime technique and perform selections from his solo plays. FSU students who have been studying with Bowers will share work from their week-long residency with him. Reservations can be made by calling the FSU Center box office at 941-351-8000.

Let’s Talk Opera,” part of the Fridays @ Five series, is Friday, December 27, 5 p.m., in the Palm House. Engage in conversation with contemporary opera creators Laura Kaminsky, composer, and Kimberly Reed, librettist and filmmaker. They wrote the opera, “As One,” with Hermitage Fellow Mark Campbell.  “As One” is the most-produced modern opera in America.  Video opera scenes will bookend the discussion. Click for reservations.

All programs are subject to change. Please check the Hermitage website or Facebook page for updated program status.

Roberto Bentivegna’s Gucci movie to be directed by Ridley Scott with Lady Gaga in lead role

Screenwriter Roberto Bentivegna worked on his screenplay “Gucci” while he was at the Hermitage. It’s now been announced with Ridley Scott directing and Lady Gaga in the lead role. The Sarasota Film Festival and Mark Famiglio underwrote Roberto’s Hermitage residency. Read more in Rolling Stone.

Kaminsky’s opera reaches #3 on Billboard list

Congratulations to composer Laura Kaminsky, a Hermitage Fellow and board member! Since its premiere in 2014 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, her acclaimed “As One” has not only become the most-produced modern opera in America, but it’s also risen to #3 on the Billboard Classical list. Operawire calls it “one of the major works of American opera in the 21st century.” Brava!

We also want to be sure to recognize Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed as co-librettists and creative partners with Laura in the creation of this work. The three of them make one powerhouse team that is changing the nature of opera in our time.