Hermitage and The Bay Park announce new series

The Hermitage Artist Retreat and The Bay Park are joining forces to bring the Hermitage’s unique and innovative artist programming to one of Sarasota’s most exciting and ambitious public park projects through a new community program, “Hermitage at The Bay.”

“We are excited to partner with the esteemed Hermitage Artist Retreat to bring innovative events to The Bay,” says Jeannie Perales, Chief Experience Officer at The Bay Park Conservancy. “We know that attendees will delight in the Hermitage’s unique approach to audience engagement, and we’re proud to offer these programs to the community free of cost as a part of our effort to create a park that is open and accessible, free and welcoming to all.”

The first program — “Hermitage at The Bay: Sound and Color” on Thursday, November 18 at 5pm — features two Hermitage Fellows, composer Jared Miller and visual artist Iva Gueorguieva, who will share their latest work and speak about their creative process. Miller’s contemporary classical compositions range from the fast-paced rhythms of basketball in Buzzer Beater to the seismic shifts all around us in Under Sea, Above Sky. Gueorguieva’s art has been described as “the optical equivalent of surround sound” with a “perpetual suddenness” (LA Times). (Iva Gueorguieva’s Hermitage Residency generously sponsored by Gerald & Sondra Biller). Free with a $5 per person registration fee. Registration is required. The Bay’s Civic Green (on the north side of the Municipal Auditorium), 801 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236

On Sunday, December 12 at 2pm, “Hermitage at The Bay: Muse(ic) and Poetry” will feature two Hermitage Fellows, poets Francine J. Harris and Mae Yway (pictured). Harris is an Audre Lorde Award and Lambda Award winner, who will share selections from her latest work Here is the Sweet Hand, inspired by classic compositions. Renowned international poet Mae Yway from Burma (Myanmar) is an International Writing Program participant who presents work both in her native tongue and in translation. Free with a $5 per person registration fee. Registration is required. The Bay’s Civic Green (on the north side of the Municipal Building), 801 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236

Hermitage “doubles down” on safe, expanded outdoor programming for 2021-22

The Hermitage Artist Retreat has been one of the nation’s earliest and most successful adapters to offer a safe new model for live events and performance over the past year. Today, Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg announced that its live and virtual programs in theater, music, visual art, literature, and more will continue to be held entirely outdoors and socially distanced throughout the 2021-2022 season, at venues across Sarasota County including, but not limited to, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, The Bay Sarasota, The Ringling Museum, Asolo Rep, and the Hermitage Beach.

“All of us at the Hermitage are incredibly excited for the season ahead,” notes Andy Sandberg, now entering his second full season as Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage, following his appointment in December of 2019. “Our programs are designed to offer audiences a unique and authentic look into our extraordinary artists’ creative process. This does not require us to be indoors, so as we push into the 2021-2022 season, we are doubling down on our commitment to safe and inspiring outdoor programming, as well as expanded virtual access to reach audiences and communities we might not otherwise be able to engage.”

“We are in one of the most beautiful places in the world, with so many extraordinary outdoor venues and partners,” adds Sandberg. “Artists and audiences come to the Gulf Coast to experience the rich arts and cultural scene, but also to enjoy the beautiful sunsets – our programs offer both at once.” 

Until further notice, all Hermitage programs will continue to be outside or online. Moreover, as concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19 continue in our region, these outdoor arts and cultural experiences provide a level of comfort to artists and audiences alike. “Anyone who has attended a Hermitage program in the past twelve months knows how seriously we take the health and wellbeing of everyone in attendance,” says Sandberg. “Our incredible staff, crew, and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure these events are safe and enjoyable for all.” At every outdoor Hermitage event – each approximately an hour in length – audiences are socially distanced, with clear signage and ropes to delineate seating blocks. All guests are encouraged to wear masks (provided for anyone who needs one), individual hand sanitizers are distributed to each member of the audience, and artists use separate microphones. “In addition to the health and safety of our audiences, we have to factor in the concerns of our artists who are coming to the Hermitage from different states and countries,” adds Sandberg. “For many, this is their first or only time performing in a live setting in over a year, so they rely on us to ensure a safe and worry-free experience,” adds Sandberg. 

The Hermitage recently announced the 2021-2022 dates for its popular “Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens” series, which had its debut on August 27. Virtual programming continues with “UnScripted,” a collaboration with the Van Wezel Foundation, as well as the newly announced “Artists and Thinkers: A National Conversation Series,” featuring candid conversations between members of the Hermitage’s National Curatorial Council and accomplished alumni artists from across the United States. New offerings this season will include collaborations with Art Center Sarasota, The Bay Sarasota, Booker High School, and Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, among others, as well as continuing longstanding partnerships with Asolo Rep, Bookstore1, Florida Studio Theatre, New Music New College, Ringling College of Art & Design, The Ringling Museum, Sarasota Art Museum, Selby Gardens, Urbanite Theatre, The Van Wezel, West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, and more to be announced.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.