Philanthropy

Coloring Lives

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The Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Gallery for Contemporary Art

Keith Monda — the former president and COO of Coach, Inc. — is proud to call Sarasota home. He came to Sarasota for the first time in the 1950s and was impressed by both the Gulf of Mexico and the sheer beauty of the area. Over the years, he and his wife, Linda, continued to visit and vacation here, though they also frequented other Florida cities. “Yet none measured up,” he reports.

“Sarasota was always at the top of the charts not only for its natural beauty but also its interesting culturally-oriented community. It affords one the opportunity to participate. This is a community that cares a lot.”

So when it came time to relocate from New York City, Sarasota was the place. “It met all of our criteria. The only thing we were disappointed in,” he says, “was how it had a tale of two cities. So many people had a wonderful life while in many parts of the same city, young children weren’t getting by.” And that fact motivated the Mondas to take an active role in philanthropy designed to remedy the situation. They wanted everyone to have a chance.

To that end, they devote their energies to three principal areas: children, education, and conservation. Keith says, “Sure, we get involved in other areas, but we always bring it back to those three things.” Those areas allow them a pretty wide range of philanthropic opportunities. For example, Keith works with All Faiths Food Bank, where he was the co-creator of the annual Campaign Against Summer Hunger program, along with Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s Veronica Brady and All Faiths Food Bank’s Sandra Frank. This past summer, through backpack programs and food pantries, the program touched more than 30,000 kids. He is also Chair of the Board of Directors of Feeding America, the national network of food banks to which All Faiths belongs. “Food insecurity across the country is something we have to change,” he insists. “We are looking forward to working in collaboration with other organizations in the public, private, and independent sectors to create a hunger-free America.”

The Mondas are involved with Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, as well. Each year, they support bringing New York City students to Mote over the summer to learn about the environment. Being a graduate of Ohio State University (OSU), Keith also annually funds 50 OSU students to travel abroad to gain a global perspective. These young adults are often the first in their family to attend college, and more than a few have never been on a plane. “Helping them create a world view is incredibly important,” says Keith.

The most recent philanthropic effort for the Mondas is at The Ringling where their $500,000 gift supports The Ringling’s Art of Our Time programming. The Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Gallery for Contemporary Art is a 2,400-square foot gallery space that showcases exciting new work by living artists. The space — located in the West Wing of the Museum of Art — was intentionally made to be flexible to allow for artists who move beyond traditional practice in the conceptualization, creation, and exhibition of their work, whether it’s visual or performative. The space is easily able to accommodate new media, video, and project-based exhibits.

“I’ve been following contemporary and modern art for more than three decades — a big part of my life,” admits Keith. “It’s been a great counterbalance to the stress of my work environment.” What he likes about it is its unstructured nature. It permits the viewer’s mind to go to a different place than it might have otherwise traveled. “This is critically important for young minds. It exposes them to new places and things. It invites them to think in ways they might not otherwise have.” Linda adds, “It’s important to use your imagination when looking at art. Seeing colors and concepts. Relating it to your own life.”

Keith notes that the first artist whose work appears in the gallery was a pleasant surprise. “If you asked 100 people what the first installation should be, no one would have guessed the one The Ringling chose.” That installation is American artist Anne Patterson’s site-specific work “Pathless Woods,” which invites viewers to experience the world through her eyes. Since she has synesthesia — a neurological phenomenon that blends one sense into another, such as seeing colors when one hears music — this becomes a surprising experience. “It’s something that’s really tough to describe without seeing,” Patterson herself explains. “It’s like swimming through color.”

“Going through it multiple times is a changing experience,” says Linda about the installation that uses 15-foot strips of satin ribbon — 24 miles of it! — arranged by color and draped to the ground from ropes overhead. Colored lights, projections, and music complete the multimedia experience that allows visitors to find their own path through the ocean of ribbons.

The Mondas aren’t 100% certain of the first time they visited The Ringling. Linda thinks it’s 1971. Keith thinks it might have been a year or two later. Regardless, they’ve been following The Ringling for decades and deeply appreciate its community commitment. Donating money to Art of Our Time was, in Keith’s mind, “an opportunity to help them establish a permanent commitment to contemporary and modern art, which we view as an important part of any museum’s agenda.”

About their philanthropic efforts in general, the Mondas explain, “We pick the things that are important to us. It’d be wonderful if others picked the same things, too. But my point is this — we all need to pick something. I encourage everyone who has been blessed to find their passion and then find a way to give back. Time, talent, treasure, and touch — it all makes a difference.”

For more information on The Ringling, please visit theringling.org or call 941.359.5700.

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