Arts Capital - January 2012

By Charlie Huisking Photography by Suffolk Construction Co. & Cliff Roles January 1, 2012

WHAT MAKES A COOL BUILDING EVEN COOLER? Palm Avenue parking garageA Lovely Piece of “Carchitecture” Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta caused an uproar when, in an email that he meant to be private, he blasted the city’s decision to spend $25,000 on murals inside the Palm Avenue parking garage.

Most of the furor surrounded his criticism of artist Virginia Hoffman, whom he mistakenly thought was pushing for the idea. But I was most struck by his description of the garage as “an abomination.” I was shocked, because I love that building.

In my humble opinion, architect Jonathan Parks turned what could have been a boring utilitarian structure into a striking piece of art, with those fanciful aluminum sails that reflect the garage’s steps-from-the-bayfront location. It’s quickly become one of Sarasota’s signature buildings, and it looks particularly cool when it’s lit up at night.

Barbetta may be right in complaining the garage shouldn’t have been constructed in such a prime location. And on the mural issue, at first I did agree with him that it was silly to spend money on interior art that many would never see. But on further reflection, Sarasota doesn’t exactly have a glut of public art. So why not take a chance on something that could make a cool building even cooler?

I’m also glad to hear there are plans to make the roof of the garage available for parties and other events. There’s a precedent for this. The eye-catching new 1111 Lincoln Road public garage in Miami Beach (dubbed by a clever New York Times writer as a distinctive piece of “carchitecture”) is the hottest venue in town. People are “clamoring to use it for wine tastings, dinner parties and even yoga classes,” the Times said. The structure is viewed not so much as a parking garage, but a prime civic space.

Season in the Sun And speaking of public art, congratulations to the all-volunteer staff and board of the Season of Sculpture for mounting another exhibition despite some financial challenges. True, the exhibit, on display along Sarasota’s bayfront until May, is only about half as large as in previous years. But it still contains some arresting and provocative pieces.

“We struggle for support like all the nonprofits, and I think we face an additional hurdle because many people mistakenly think that we are funded by the city of Sarasota,” says board chair Susan McLeod. “It was very important to us to get this show up and keep the following that we have in this community. I think people are really going to enjoy it.”

National Attention The Sarasota Ballet, which performs its “Made in America” program Jan. 27-29 at the FSU Center, is still buzzing over its hugely successful October collaboration with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I expected the national critics who reviewed the performances to focus on the Farrell dancers, since her troupe is so much better known.

So how nice it was to read the Wall Street Journal’s praise of Sarasota Ballet’s Danielle Brown’s “spontaneity” and Ricardo Graziano’s “similar verve and authority.” And The New York Times critic made special mention of the Kennedy Center Orchestra’s conductor, Emil de Cou, saying he “may now be the finest ballet conductor in America.” What a wonderful tribute to De Cou, who is a familiar name in Sarasota as a guest conductor for the ballet and for the Sarasota Orchestra.

Welcome back A new face at the Sarasota Opera is a familiar face to many opera supporters. After a seven-year absence, Greg Parry has returned to again serve as the company’s director of marketing and public relations. This time, he’ll have expanded responsibilities.

Greg Parry

Parry left the opera in 2004 to take a similar position with the San Diego Symphony; he subsequently ran an arts-consulting business in Paris. Looking to return to the United States, he contacted his old boss, executive director Susan Danis, via Facebook last summer. His timing was perfect, as the company had a position to fill and Danis was thrilled to have him back.

“It’s great to be part of this company again,” the gregarious Parry told me. While it’s nice to be back in familiar territory, he notes that “there are so many new people, and such major changes, such as the renovation of the Opera House, that it’s like a brand-new job, with lots of new challenges.”

One of those challenges will be convincing audiences that seeing an opera live is more rewarding than watching the hugely popular movie-theater screenings of Metropolitan Opera performances.

“To me, that’s like going to a restaurant and looking at pictures of food,” Parry says. “It’s just not as fulfilling.”

Hey, I sense a new ad campaign in the making.


Guest star When film producer Amy Robinson was in Sarasota two years ago to take part in a panel discussion about on-location shooting in Florida, she ran into an old friend, Brad Battersby. He told her he was chairing a new digital film program at the Ringling College of Art and Design.

“I didn’t know a lot about the college, but I was so impressed when I toured the campus and saw what they were doing,” says Robinson, whose credits include Julie and Julia, White Palace and Running on Empty. She accepted Battersby’s invitation to come back several times a year to work with the students.

She likes the individual attention that the students get in the relatively small Ringling program, and she’s pleased that a lot of emphasis is placed on the narrative. “In my sessions, we focus on the story, on the creative aspects, on working with actors,” Robinson says. “No matter how technologically great a movie is, if you have rotten actors and don’t know how to direct them, it isn’t going to turn out well.”

Robinson is hoping that a longtime dream of hers might be getting closer to fruition. She hopes to produce a film, or perhaps even a series of films, based on the Travis McGee mysteries of the late John D. MacDonald, a longtime Sarasota resident. “Fox Studios is looking at a new script now, and they really like it,” she says.

Leading Lady Unlike some Sarasota arts patrons I could name, Esther Mertz never wanted to be in the spotlight or to receive special attention. When I approached her about doing a profile several years ago, she demurred, saying she’d already received more publicity than she deserved.

But this sweet-natured, unassuming woman made a major impact on Sarasota’s cultural life. Mertz, who died in October at age 96, was particularly devoted to the Asolo Rep, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory and Florida Studio Theatre. The next time you walk into the Asolo mainstage theater that bears her name, think not only of the millions she donated, but of the unselfish spirit in which they were given.

Applause Sarasota Magazine’s arts editor Kay Kipling irritates me sometimes. It’s not her personality: she’s among the nicest, most warm-hearted people I know. But every time I read her insightful theater blogs and feature stories, I shake my head and wish I could write with such grace and perception. Even when I haven’t seen the show she’s critiquing, I take great pleasure in reading what she has to say.

So I’m happy to put my jealousy aside and congratulate Kay for winning the Arts Leadership Award in the media category from the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. A well-deserved, long-overdue honor.



For even more arts and culture updates, read Charlie Huisking’s Arts & Travel blog.


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