Sarasota is a cultural center that supports a varied performing arts community of theatre, opera, concerts and dance. With The Ringling Museum of Art, the Ringling College of Art and Design, the Art Center Sarasota and the former Longboat Key Center for the Arts, one would think that there would be robust support for the visual arts beyond those institutions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are just a few galleries which champion a few artists who live and create in Sarasota. Most of the local artists generally exhibit and sell their work elsewhere. From my point of view, there is only one contemporary art standout, Alfstad& Contemporary. The gallery is a relative newcomer but has made its mark with its exhibitions and installations of high aesthetics and engagement. Grace Howl who I highlighted in the last e-newsletter exhibited there this past season her installation, “together&apart, The love letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz”.
Due to the lack of this support, Sarasota artists have banded together in collaborative venues, through coordinated open studio dates and events. SaRtQ – Sarasota Contemporary Art Collective as well as Sarasota Visual Artists are actively supporting and promoting their membership. Also, there are couple venturesome artists who are creating alternative, artist run gallery spaces. This past March, the inaugural exhibition, “Organic Geometry” opened at Marianne Chapel’s, Mchapel Projects where emerging artists will have the opportunity to show their work. With an exhibition program still in the formative stages, Grace Howl will be opening a new gallery space in the Rosemary District. This is an area now being developed into a neighborhood destination within steps of downtown Sarasota.
Surprisingly over the years, Sarasota has been a studio haven for noted artists such as, sculptor John Chamberlain, painter Syd Solomon, painter Jimmy Ernst and ceramicist Dallas Ernst, as well as their printmaker daughter, Amy Ernst. Perhaps it is the combination of brilliant blue skies, sugar white sands and crystal waters that creates the special energy that pulls artists here to set up studios. Whatever the draw is, local Sarasota artists have recognized that if any support is to come their way, they will have to create it themselves.