Arts Capital - March 2011

By Charlie Huisking March 1, 2011

Nothing “Interim” about Rousseau

It looks as if Marshall Rousseau will be interim director of the Ringling Museum of Art much longer than he expected. But Rousseau says neither he nor the museum staff is standing pat as a search committee goes back to the drawing board in its quest for a new leader.

Rousseau was named interim director in August 2009 after the resignation of John Wetenhall. Last year, a search firm identified three finalists for the position. But the museum’s search committee decided none of them had the right background or experience, so the search has begun again.

Some Ringling board members are unhappy that the process has taken so long. But the 77-year-old Rousseau, a former board member with vast management experience in both the arts and corporate world, is happy to stay on “until they find the absolute best person for the job. This is a tough, complicated position to fill, because this is such a multi-faceted institution. So they have to take the time to get it right.”

In a recent newsletter, Rousseau said the word “interim” doesn’t reflect what has happened during his tenure, as there has been “neither an interruption nor a hiatus in the work being done to advance the mission of this institution.” Indeed, in the last year, the museum had the most active exhibition schedule in its history, broke ground on an expansion of the circus exhibits in the Tibbals Learning Center and hired a new curator of modern and contemporary art, Matthew McLendon. The second Ringling International Arts Festival was a rousing success, and a new Art After Five program on Thursday nights has attracted new audiences.

“I want people to know this place is functioning beautifully, that no one here has missed a beat,” says Rousseau, whom staffers describe as a hands-on leader who works long hours and has strong opinions, but who is respectful of other views.

“He has gained a lot of ad-mirers during his time here,” one staffer says.

Détente At The Dance?

Robert DeWarren’s name probably won’t be mentioned during the Sarasota Ballet’s 20th anniversary celebration on March 25. Relations between the company and its former artistic director have grown icy since DeWarren launched his Sarasota dance program last year.

But Eddy Toussaint, the company’s first artistic director, may be there in spirit, if not in person. When Toussaint was visiting Sarasota from his home in Canada recently, he told me he’d happily allow Sarasota Ballet to perform one of his works at the gala. I relayed that news, and Toussaint’s contact information, to Sarasota Ballet’s Iain Webb. He told me he’d been trying to locate Toussaint, and said he hoped they could work something out.

Toussaint moved his Canadian company, Ballet Eddy Toussaint de Montreal, to Sarasota in 1990, and his exciting choreography made him the toast of the town for a while. But he and ballet founder Jean Weidner battled often over management and artistic issues, and Toussaint left in 1993. He returned a year later with his own Sarasota company. (Hmm, are you sensing a pattern here?)

Toussaint has been choreographing around the world since then, but he recently started another Montreal company, which earned top awards at an international dance festival last year. During his Sarasota visit, he had a nice conversation with Weidner when they were guests at the same party. “Whatever problems we had, that was a long time ago,” he says.

Not surprisingly, Toussaint thinks there is room in Sarasota for two dance programs. But he was disappointed to learn DeWarren said he’d never attend another Sarasota Ballet performance. “That’s not fair to the artists he nurtured there,” he says. “Artists should not be put in the middle of a situation like that.”


Brush With Fame

Joe Rizzo, of Owen’s Fish Camp restaurant, was rooting for True Grit at this year’s Oscar ceremonies, and not just because he loved the movie.

A few years ago, Rizzo spotted the film’s star, Jeff Bridges, at a bar in Montana, where Bridges has an 800-acre ranch. In 1977, when Rizzo was a tennis instructor at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy at the Colony Beach resort, he hit balls every morning with the actor’s father, Lloyd Bridges, who was in Sarasota to make a movie about Karl Wallenda.

“I told Jeff that story, and he smiled and told me to hop in his truck because he wanted to show me something,” Rizzo says. “He drove to his ranch, and showed me a picture of his father, surrounded by Nick Bollettieri and the tennis pros from the Colony. I was in that picture. It was a great moment, and Jeff was such a cool guy.”

New In Town

Bookstore 1 Sarasota, scheduled to open this month at 1359 Main St., will also serve as a kind of cultural community center. “The owner, Georgia Court, wants to have some kind of an event here every day, whether it’s an author’s talk, a poetry reading, a musical performance or even an art show,” says manager David Chaplin. He formerly managed the book departments at Media on Main and Sarasota News & Books.

The 2,000-square-foot store will also have a room for book clubs to meet. And where will the coffee shop be? “We won’t have one. We’re focusing on the books,” Chaplin says. Wow, what a concept.


The Sarasota Orchestra’s all-Beethoven Masterworks concerts, March 10-13, should be thrilling. But people are still buzzing about the innovative January concerts. Maestro Leif Bjaland created a musical tapestry, presenting a dozen pieces played without pause or intermission in a fast-paced 90 minutes. He used dramatic lighting to heighten the experience. I’m so impressed with Bjaland’s attempts to tinker with the concert experience without undermining the integrity of the music.


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