Art Powers

By ericg November 1, 2009

Meet the 28 men and women who rock our art world.


The big kahunas—the establishment that runs the show.

Iain Webb. In just two years at the helm of Sarasota Ballet, the British transplant, 50, has excited audiences and critics by staging ballets never or seldom seen in the United States, both by legends like Sir Anthony Tudor and rising stars like Matthew Bourne.

Michael Donald Edwards. The Aussie-born artistic director of the Asolo Rep, 60, is giving our homegrown theater company a national perspective, bringing in new artists from New York and elsewhere and staging some unexpected works. Charms audiences—and elderly donors.

Larry Thompson. The genial prez of Ringling College of Art and Design, 62, has built the school into a national star and turned out grads in hot programs like computer animation who outearn their boomer parents. Next mission: keeping our arts community afloat, as president of the reinvented arts council.

Richard Hopkins. Opinionated and outspoken, the longtime leader of Florida Studio Theatre does it his way—and why not? He’s amassed three stages, tons of outreach, a fanatically loyal audience and even gives the mighty Asolo a run for its money—including in artistic quality.


More Superpowers

Leif Bjaland After more than a decade with the Sarasota Orchestra, the popular, animated conductor and artistic director, 53, helped reinvigorate the organization last year with a new name and new programming aimed at younger audiences.

Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs. We may be the only town in the world where the circus is an integral part of the arts scene, and that wouldn’t still be true without Circus Sarasota, the intimate and impressive creation of the charismatic ringmaster, 50, and his aerialist wife, daughter of the legendary clown Lou Jacobs.

Victor DeRenzi. Tyrannical and lovable, the Verdi-loving maestro, 60, has turned a small-town opera company into the pride of Sarasota and made us a destination for opera lovers from around the world.

Mary Bensel. She took over the 40-year-old centerpiece of Sarasota culture, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, at a challenging time, and in her second season she’s stopped much of the financial bleeding, pleased City Hall and kept the curtain rising.


Major Powers

They keep our art world rich and diverse.

Jeanne Corcoran. The energetic and upbeat head of the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office is managing even in this economy to inject signs of life into the local film industry, bringing together outside directors and producers with local settings and talent.

Mark Famiglio. As president of the Sarasota Film Festival, he’ll save or sink the 11-year-old celebration, which is in the red and has reconfigured its board. (See story, page 94.) More cultural clout: Famiglio, 53, is vice chair of the Van Wezel Foundation.

Carole Kleinberg. The artistic director of the Banyan Theater Company, which enlivens our long, hot summer with excellent, often edgy productions, Kleinberg, 72, has deep theatrical roots and a maternal warmth that nurtures everybody from old pros to nervous ingénues.

Murray Chase. Venice Theatre is the hub of Venice cultural life, with something always happening on its stages, from contemporary drama to crowd-pleasing musicals. Credit artistic director Chase, 51, who’s led the theater to major awards and can do a star turn himself—remember his George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Brenda Terris. Presenting public art is an impossible job, but the unflappable head of Sarasota Season of Sculpture, 51, has weathered recessionary fund-raising and the storm over that giant sailor to assemble a bayfront show that will engage—and occasionally enrage—thousands of Sarasotans every day.

Bruce Rodgers. The engaging executive director, 60, of the Hermitage Artist Retreat on Manasota Key, which brings nationally known writers, musicians and visual artists here to create new work, is also a playwright and arts education activist.



They fund, support and facilitate our creative scene.


Chris Pfahler. Efficient, smart and determined, the former nurse made a name for herself chairing charity galas, then grew into a board leader, serving as president of the Sarasota Ballet and chairing its search committee for an artistic director. Take notes, political pundits—this is how Katherine Harris got her start.

John McKay. Former president of the Florida Senate and vice chair of the Ringling Museum’s board, the 61-year-old power player found dollars in Tallahassee for the Ringling Museum expansion and helped persuade Mikhail Baryshnikov to partner with October’s Ringling International Arts Festival.

Eva Slane. The ultimate volunteer and arts supporter, the charming and beautifully dressed Slane shines at every opening night and is a hands-on, hardworking member of many arts boards—and a playwright, too.

Virginia Toulmin. Chair of the Sarasota Orchestra board and a major donor to many arts causes, she’s a grande dame of impeccable grace and style. But she’s also showing steely resolve in the current battle over musician contracts.

Bob Greenfield. Sharp as can be at 94, the former Philadelphia attorney funds important creative work through his Greenfield Foundation, the legacy of clients who admired him. It’s funded the prestigious national Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting and a new prize to create work at Manasota’s Hermitage.


Fire Powers

Bright young lights and visionaries; they burn with energy and new ideas.


Leymis Bolaños Wilmott. The 32-year-old choreographer has excited local dance fans with her Fuzión Dance Artists, which stages new and original contemporary work at unconventional locales (Whole Foods, Saks) as well as on local stages.

Jeffery Kin. The boundlessly energetic artistic director, 45, has revitalized the 80-year-old Players Theatre with expanded programming, new ideas, steady leadership and a relentlessly upbeat attitude, even in the face of budget cuts

Dhakeria Cunningham. The directors and stage managers actually stood up and applauded when this dynamic Howard University grad (class of ’08) recently did her first Sarasota audition. Look for her as the sassy waitress in the Players’ A Country Christmas Carol in December—and much more.

Stephen Miles. Sarasota music fans can indulge a taste for cutting-edge works thanks to the New Music New College series, headed by music prof Miles, 54. The series features original work from New College students as well as leading contemporary artists.

Christine Alexander. Enterprising and entrepreneurial, the 37-year-old actress/writer keeps coming up with new ideas, from the Anything Arts e-newsletter she co-produces to her Lazy Fairy Improv troupe and online theatrical initiatives.

Joseph Arnegger. Co-founder of the new s/art/q, an alternative to the traditional gallery scene, the 40-year-old Ringling grad wants to showcase not only his work but that of other young Sarasota artists with fresh visions and 23, compelling voices.

Dwight Currie. The witty, erudite Currie, 56, has brought an intriguing mix of cultural fare, from opera stars to a one-man play starring Ed Asner, to the Historic Asolo Theater, and he scored a big win helping direct last month’s Ringling International Arts Festival.

Wendy Surkis.  Former international ad agency head, she retired to Siesta Key at 50 in 2000—then plunged into our arts scene. As president of Sarasota Museum of Art, she’s generated excitement for the idea of a contemporary museum in the iconic Sarasota High building and connected her cause with Ringling College.

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