For years, Sarasota businessman Jay Patel worked just blocks from The Ringling, recommending the museum as a destination to guests who stayed at the motel he owns, but he never himself visited the museum. But once he took the plunge, he made it a regular part of his life, bringing along his children, family and friends. "It's an amazing asset," Patel says.
Now, partly as a way to encourage other Indian-Americans to check out what the museum has to offer, he's helping organize A Journey Through India, a three-day festival that takes place April 26-28 and includes a Bollywood dance festival, live music from a sitar master, lectures on Indian culture, a market with food and artisan goods and more.
"This is a way to let people in the Indian community know what The Ringling is about," Patel says. He estimates that there are a little more than 200 Indian families in the Sarasota area. In the past, he helped out on a series of annual Indian cultural festivals that took place at Palmetto's Bradenton Area Convention Center, popular affairs that catered to local Indian-American families, as well as others in Tampa and St. Petersburg. When The Ringling staff reached out to him about possibly helping organize a similar festival here in Sarasota, he jumped on board.
The festival acts as a preview of sorts for The Fabric of India, a broad exhibition that showcases more than 200 examples of historical Indian dress that kicks off this summer at The Ringling. "We wanted to do something to build excitement for the exhibition," says Isabel Lower, The Ringling's social media specialist and public relations representative, "and we wanted to bring in people who haven't visited the museum in a long time and let them know we are here." That's in line with the museum's ongoing five-year strategic plan, a document that emphasizes "broadening its public programming to reach a wide range of communities."
The festival schedule was crafted by Ringling staff and Indian community members to highlight the diversity that exists within India's borders, with an impressive list of artists, chefs and scholars, including Bollywood choreographer Rajat "Rocky" Batta and sitar legend Shujaat Khan. "It was really important that we represent not one particular culture of India, but cultures from the north and the south throughout every aspect of the festival," says Lower. Don't have the time or money for a proper trip to India? The upcoming festival will bring a little slice of India to you.
A Journey Through India kicks off with a Bollywood dance party featuring choreographer Rajat "Rocky" Batta from 7 to 11 p.m. on Friday, April 26. The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, with a family-friendly mix of lectures, music, art, dance, food and shopping. Sitarist Shujaat Khan then performs at 7:30 p.m. The festival concludes with a free yoga session at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 28. All events take place at The Ringling, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Buy tickets online.