My New Hometown

Kennedy Center's Darrell Ayers Moves to Sarasota

Kennedy Center VP Darrell Ayers is jazzed about Sarasota’s arts scene.

By Ilene Denton April 1, 2016 Published in the April 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Darrell Ayers

Image: Jennifer Soos

As vice president for education and jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Darrell Ayers oversaw a $20 million budget and a staff of 45. Besides commissioning new works by top children’s theater companies and training teachers across America to incorporate arts into the classroom through its Partners in Education program (the Van Wezel is a longtime partner), he helped develop Any Given Child, which expands access to the arts in 20 communities, including Sarasota. He and his wife, Mary Jane (chair of the vocal music department at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in D.C.), retired to Sarasota last fall.

Equal Access

“Any Given Child works to ensure that every child in kindergarten through grade 8 has arts as part of their education. We’ve seen success in Fresno, Calif., Missoula, Mont., Las Vegas, Nev. Sarasota County brought the arts and business communities together to apply for it; it’s coordinated here through the school system.” 

Still in the Game

“I’m doing some consulting with performing arts centers nationally to help them determine the direction for arts education at their organizations, and Mary Jane is hoping to do some teaching and writing.”

Fanning the Spark

“I’ve joined the Hermitage Artist Retreat national jury. It’s such a little jewel, to have an environment [beachfront cottages on Manasota Key] where the spark of creativity can be nurtured. When the NEA stopped funding individual artists, other organizations had to fill the gaps, and the Hermitage certainly does that.” 


“We [wanted] to be near family in Fort Myers and Cape Coral. Jazz is the other reason [we came here]. At one point this was the largest jazz society in the United States, and it’s still very vibrant, with a wealth in both large and small venues. We went on the [Jazz Club’s] jazz trolley last fall and it was great fun.” 


“I play disc golf, and there are a number of courses here.”

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