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.

Five Florida arts educators chosen for STARs residency

This month, five Florida public school arts teachers are spending part of their summer breaks on Manasota Key working on their own artistic endeavors. They are the winners of the 2020 State Teacher/Artist Residency program (STARs), presented by the Hermitage Artist Retreat and the Florida Alliance for Arts Education (FAAE). This year’s recipients include three visual arts instructors, a library media specialist, and a creative writing and English teacher. The five receive a residency at the Hermitage on Manasota Key, where they have the opportunity to leave their classroom responsibilities behind and focus on their work as creative artists.

“These brilliant teachers are also talented artists in their own right,” says Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage. “During the academic year, their attention is devoted to their students, and this past semester has been particularly challenging for educators throughout our nation. The STARs program gives five distinguished teachers the opportunity to experience what leading artists from around the world have come to the Hermitage for – to focus on their craft, their art, and their creative process. Over the years, the STARs have created some truly stunning works of art and literature during their time at the Hermitage. Many teaching artist alumni have shared that this program enables them to return to their students with a new fire and passion for arts education.”

The chosen five are Daniela Drazan, a library specialist at Horizon Academy at Marion Oaks in Ocala; Gláucia Mir, a visual art, drawing and sculpture instructor at Liberty High School in Kissimmee; Joy Williams, a drawing, painting and ceramics instructor at North Fort Myers High (Center for the Arts) in Fort Myers; Tara Salovitz, an English and creative writing instructor at Port Charlotte High School in Port Charlotte; and Lucia Morales, a visual art instructor at Jose Marti MAST 6-12 Academy in North Miami Beach.

Florida arts educators apply for the Hermitage summer residencies through FAAE. Applications are open to all Florida music, theater, visual art, and creative writing teachers. Since the start of the program in 2011, 48 teachers have represented 21 Florida counties. Residencies culminate with a free community program; due to coronavirus, this year’s programs will be captured virtually and presented at a future date.

A Czech immigrant, Daniela Drazan has worked at the Library of Congress, taught English in Japan, conducted market research in the Czech Republic, and sang in a nightclub. She says that these experiences infuse and inspire her literary work. She hoped to write more and achieve publication but “like for many of us, work and family pushed aside the dream.” During her residency at the Hermitage, she hopes to continue work on a novel she’s started. “At five pages a day at the minimum, it might just be possible to complete the first draft, especially with a residency that provides the time and space for contemplation as well as productivity,” says Drazan.

Brazilian-born mixed media artist Gláucia Mir spent her childhood in São Paulo and her teens and 20s in New York City. Later she lived in the bucolic Bucks County, in Pennsylvania and now she calls Central Florida home. Her background in illustration and her gusto for adventure means her artwork often tells a story. Mir says she “thrives in the knowledge that my art can bring joy, questions or even disturb the viewer.” During her residency at the Hermitage, she plans on “delving into a set of works inspired by the ‘Mapping Vulnerability’ works that I began during my final graduate capstone project. My first set of works consisted of ink wash and mixed-media paintings which together made one large body of work. I would like to continue experimenting by using white on black to create a second set.” She adds that she would also like to read and listen to audiobooks and podcasts—something she rarely has time for. Finally, she says “I am my own worst enemy in settling down to work, because I let interruptions become my excuses. This time alone will let me focus and get to work.”

Joy Williams says that her art is inspired by Robert Rauschenberg, who told her that his mission is to “ennoble the ordinary.” “Our conversation inspired me to crystalize the message of my own work,” says Williams. “My objective is to offer an aesthetic of flowing ‘waves of joy’ in contrast to the angst of modern life.” The artist and teacher says she hopes to continue creating “art that concerns our worldwide need for clean water and clean oceans. I would like to continue this theme but expand mediums to work with printmaking and sculpture, incorporating objects found on location at the Hermitage. While I will take a stroll on the beach or a kayak in the mangroves, I will also be able to work well into the wee hours of the night as my muse calls.”

Tara Salovitz has already self-publisheda novel and says she will spend her time at the Hermitage to work on a young adult novel that she’s already begun. “It’s the story of two extraordinary sisters who are on a treacherous journey across the country in order to fulfill their destiny. The book is to be the first in a trilogy. I would strive to write or work on some aspect of my writing for at least eight hours a day.” Salovitz says that she also hopes to spend her time at the Hermitage reading books about her craft. “As a novice writer, I try to learn as much as I can from experts,” she says. “As for the rest of my time, I would like to take a walk and perhaps go for a swim every day; hopefully, the fresh ocean air and physical activity would stimulate my imagination as well as sustain me through long hours of work.”

Originally from Lima, Peru, Lucia Morales says she derives great inspiration from her heritage. Leaving her home and family in Peru has also shaped her art in ways she’s still discovering. “Through dance and painting I feel that I can maintain the connection to my heritage and explore new pathways of the relationships that those who leave home come to form with their new one,” she says. During her residency, she hopes to “use the time and location as a catalyst for my creative process. A place and time to continue the introspection that I simply cannot continue as a busy art educator during the school year, and the perfect scenery to continue studying nature, light and composition through plein-air painting.”

“We look forward to seeing what this latest group of STARs will create,” says Sandberg. “It is an honor to celebrate Florida’s top arts educators, and we are grateful to the Florida Alliance for Arts Education for their continued collaboration.”

Pictured left to right, the 2020 Hermitage Artist Retreat STARs: Daniela Drazan, Lucia Morales, Tara Salovitz, Gláucia Mir, and Joy Williams.

Hermitage meets $150,000 matching challenge, achieves first million-dollar fiscal year

Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, today announced that the Hermitage has exceeded its $150,000 matching challenge, raising a total of $302,000 through this campaign in response to COVID-19. This spring fundraising initiative launched with a generous $100,000 pledge from the Manasota Key-based Cook family on April 7th to match every gift dollar-to-dollar through June 30th. The original $100,000 challenge was met in just four weeks, and an additional group of Hermitage supporters contributed $50,000 to extend the match. On Tuesday, June 30th, the Hermitage surpassed its goal.

“We cannot express our gratitude enough to everyone who helped us reach this milestone,” Sandberg stated. “I must recognize that this campaign was supported generously by all members of our community: our Hermitage Fellows and artists, our audiences, our longtime supporters, our artistic colleagues, the community foundations, our board of trustees, our staff, our volunteers, and many new champions of the Hermitage.”

In addition, the funds raised through this campaign enabled the organization to achieve its first million-dollar fiscal year, which concluded on June 30th.

“The generosity of our artists, our donors, and our community has helped to ensure the future of this truly vital institution. Without this essential support for artists and the creative process, without this space and freedom to shape and develop great works of the future, we would be staring down empty stages and empty pages long past the ramifications of any virus. No doubt, there are still many question marks and challenges ahead, but together, we can continue to support bold, impactful, and diverse works of art, theater, music, literature, and more that feed our souls and shape our cultural landscape.”

Watch Sandberg’s video thank you message here.

The Hermitage resumes its core residency operations this week, commencing with the STARS teaching artist program, in partnership with the Florida Alliance for Arts Education. The organization has implemented a number of social-distancing practices and policies to ensure the safety of artists, staff, and guests. Invitations have recently been issued by the Hermitage Curatorial Council for the 2020-2021 season. Hermitage Fellows will continue to engage in free community programs, and a number of these will be made available digitally until live programs resume.

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.

Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Flora Major support Hermitage

The Hermitage Artist Retreat recently received a $40,000 grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. These funds will be used to expand community programming, visibility, and engagement as the Hermitage launches its Hermitage North programs.

This is being supported with an additional $45,000 given by Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation.

Andy Sandberg stated, “Thanks to this monumental grant from Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Flora Major’s extraordinary gift of support, we can move forward with planning our Hermitage North programs, formalizing institutional partnerships with our invaluable arts and education partners in the region, and furthering the engagement of our artists and alumni with our community. We are deeply grateful to Gulf Coast Community Foundation and to Flora Major for their generous support of these programs and their continued commitment to our mission.”

Read the entire press release here.

Pictured: Jen Shyu, who gave a Hermitage North program in 2019.

Dates announced for 2020 Artful Lobster and 2021 Greenfield Prize Dinner

The Hermitage Artist Retreat announced the dates for the organization’s two signature fundraising events in 2020-2021. The highly popular Artful Lobster will be Saturday, November 14, 2020, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Hermitage’s historic campus on Manasota Key. The Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner, which will honor the 2021 prize recipient, is scheduled for Sunday, April 11, 2021, 6-8:30 p.m., at Michael’s On East in Sarasota. Details for both events, including ticket prices, sponsorship opportunities and entertainment, will be announced later in the summer.

The wave of support continues

The Hermitage Artist Retreat received a $100,000 matching grant from the Manasota Key-based Cook family at the beginning of April. That challenge
was met in less than one month. $30,000 of this was received through the 2020
Giving Challenge, including more than $18,000 from individuals and nearly $12,000 from The Patterson Foundation. Now, thanks to a generous additional wave of support, the Hermitage has received a $50,000 pledge from a group of supporters to extend this matching challenge above and beyond the Cooks’ original gift. As a result, all gifts to the Hermitage will continue to be matched through June 30.

“We are truly overwhelmed by the response from our community,” says
Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “This generous matching
challenge has been met by artists, audiences, volunteers, staff, trustees, and so
many more. We are deeply grateful to the Cook family and to all who believe so
deeply in the Hermitage. It is wonderful to have such champions in this time of great need, and it is inspiring to see the outpouring of support for artists and the creative process during this critical moment in our cultural history.”

“We are hopeful that the overwhelming generosity of our community – and our artists’ extraordinary stories about why the Hermitage’s work is so meaningful – will inspire others to show their support for the Hermitage. We are encouraged to see such commitment to the arts in this uncertain time, and with our fellow arts and cultural institutions, we will continue to rally behind the artists and the new works that fill the stages, the museums, and the concert halls that we all know and love.”

To contribute to the Hermitage Artist Retreat, click here or call 941-475-2098, Ext. 2.