Showcasing our Arts to the World

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Showcasing our Arts to the World
By Sue Cullen

Most would agree that what defines Sarasota, and what sets it apart, is its rich arts and cultural scene. Pristine white beaches and gorgeous weather play their important roles in making this a great place to live, but the arts represent the soul of the community and distinguish it from other areas that bask in Florida sunshine. The arts also make a bottom line difference through significant economic impacts.

“We are arts advocacy in the truest sense.” – Jim Shirley

The Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota (941.365.5118) has supported and shaped the arts in Sarasota and Manatee counties for more than 30 years through government and other advocacy as well as direct support of arts organizations and individual artists through grants. It also showcases the arts within the community at events like the upcoming World Rowing Championships this month and the annual week-long InspireSarasota festival, which begins in October.

“The Alliance is set up to be the umbrella organization for all arts and culture in the region. We represent organizations, private individuals and businesses, and our job is to make sure everyone in the community has access to the arts in ways that are significant to them,” says Jim Shirley, Executive Director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance. “So many people in the community may not go to a performance or an exhibit, and we want to be sure they have access to the arts. This is not just about entertainment or to help ourselves have a fuller, richer life, it’s also about the economic impact here.”

Every five years, the Alliance and its member organizations participate in the Arts and Economic Prosperity study conduced by Americans for the Arts, which details the economic impact that nonprofit arts and culture organizations have in 341 communities nationwide. Results of that study, most recently conducted in 2015, show that direct economic impact locally by arts organizations and their audiences totals more than $295 million and supports 7,445 full time equivalent jobs. In addition, total event related expenditures, excluding admissions, are $93.5 million. An interesting tidbit from that survey indicates that tourists’ spending accounts for nearly $57.8 million of that $93.5 million.

“If you took all arts organizations as a whole, they would be one of the largest employers in Sarasota County, and they also provide $12.5 million in local government revenue and $20 million to state government,” Shirley says. “We’re looking at a significant economic generator here.” The Alliance helps keep that generator fueled, and raises the profiles of member organizations, by creating opportunities to showcase cultural organizations, including at the upcoming World Rowing Championships September 24 through October 1. “There will be 40,000 people from around the world at that event. Why not showcase all of Sarasota? The Sarasota Pops Orchestra, Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, the Circus Arts Conservancy, West Coast Black Theatre Troupe and others will be performing,” he says.

In partnership with Embracing Our Differences, students at Sarasota County schools are “adopting” the home country of one of the teams, learning about its culture and creating artwork that will be displayed at the championship event. Working with children is one of the Alliance’s key community outreach initiatives and, in partnership with the public school system and local foundations, its Arts in Education program ensures every child has access to the arts as part of his or her education, Shirley says.

The InspireSarasota festival, which runs October 23 to November 4, is a free event for the entire community and kicks off with a Celebration of the Arts event at the Van Wezel. The event will preview several upcoming performances and recognize community members who have made contributions to the arts. Other events include dual stage performances hosted by Giving Hunger the Blues and the Jazz Club of Sarasota, and the Age Friendly Sarasota event in conjunction with the Patterson Foundation at Robarts Arena celebrates all the things that make the area a great place to live. InspireSarasota will wrap up at Five Points Park in downtown Sarasota with five performance stages featuring various youth organizations. A full list of events is available at inspiresarasota.net.

Although events to showcase the arts are an important part of what it does, the Alliance also is known for its juried art shows that give local artists a venue to exhibit their work and for providing access to major grants programs for organizations as well as grant opportunities for smaller organizations and individuals. It also formed the Culture Collective, which aims to help young professionals get involved with the arts at an earlier age. Alliance volunteers conduct tours of the artwork at Patriot Plaza in the Sarasota National Cemetery, and it holds Business of Art workshops to help artists understand how to price and market their products.

“With all that we do, we are most effective as a membership organization because we are arts advocacy in the truest sense,” Shirley says. “ I would encourage people concerned about the importance of the arts to become members because their support helps us achieve our mission for the community.”

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