Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Bringing the Arts Alive on Sarasota's Bayfront

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Bringing the Arts Alive on Sarasota's Bayfront

Article excerpt

BEHIND THE SCENES

One result of problem of being in one place for so long is that I lose track of how long ago some things happened. Was it five years ago or 15?

It's that way with the push for redeveloping the bayfront area in Sarasota around the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. At one time it was being called Sarasota's Cultural District or Cultural Park. Now it's being promoted under the name of Bayfront 20:20, which appears to be moving forward more than past efforts. Whatever it's called, ideas for the project go back a decade or more.

At this point, it's still in the research and development stage, but a study funded by the Van Wezel Foundation was recently unveiled that could impact the shape of whatever is created on the expansive property adjacent to the performing arts hall.

The study indicated that it makes little sense to try to alter the iconic purple building to make it useful for the Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Ballet or other groups that want to be part of the new performance and exhibition venues that presumably would be part of the new development.

What happens to the Van Wezel is crucial to remaking the entire area. After more than 40 years as a symbol of the Sarasota arts community, it has earned a place to remain as part of whatever other projects develop around the site.

Perhaps it could become a visual arts exhibition center and house offices, artist studios, rehearsal rooms and maybe some meeting spaces. I'm not an architect and I'm not sure what kind of renovations the building can withstand, but with all the space inside, there must be room for multiple uses that would complement whatever goes up next to it or nearby.

But then what?

I've written before about envisioning some kind of project that might be Sarasota's answer to Lincoln Center in New York or the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., a cultural hub with resident constituencies that would be housed in a structure that hopefully would be designed to provide a park-like environment along the water.

I like the idea of creating some kind of facility with two theaters of different sizes. One could be a bigger version of the current Van Wezel for touring performers and bigger Broadway shows. …

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