Public art is all around in Sarasota County. Walk into a bank, laundromat or even public housing and you may find a beautiful piece hanging on the walls. To celebrate the centennial year of Sarasota County, one branch of the public library system has taken accessible art to the next level, partnering with a new nonprofit called Art in Common Places. The organization, which began in February 2020, hangs art throughout the community and currently has an exhibit at the Selby Public Library Rotunda. The founders behind the organization are three local women--a visual artist, a poet and an advocate for the arts--who believe art belongs to everyone.
"Teresa [Carson] and I began the project in February 2020 over Zoom," says visual artist and co-founder Leslie Butterfield. "Shortly after, Cynthia [Burnell] joined and helped things grow." The concept behind the nonprofit is that art should be accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford tickets to a museum gallery. Its other goal is to bring artists together.
"We are like matchmakers in a way," says poet and co-founder Teresa Carson. "We pair artists and poets together that we believe have complementary energies, and give them six weeks to create an original work." Butterfield, who is also on the public art committee for the city, adds that many artists enjoy the experience so much they continue to collaborate on other projects. So far, 35 artists have joined.
In addition to the exhibit at the Selby Library, Art in Common Places can be found in 62 locations around town. Seven volunteers replace the work every 30 days with new pieces pertaining to a fresh theme. The 12-by-18 inch, high-quality posters, (what the founders call "broadsides"), feature beautiful abstract or realistic artwork at the top and a coordinating poem below. Postcards are also left for people to take.
If you walk into the Selby rotunda now, you will see rows of panels holding broadsides of various kinds. The organization's first work, titled Heart as Moon, by Butterfield and Carson, is on display, too.
"The art and styles of poetry are very diverse," says Carson. "We want to highlight different experiences."
Live presentations are another piece of this organization's puzzle. One event already occurred last month, covering the history of the city and the importance of roads. The next live and virtual event will take place Thursday, May 27, and Thursday, June 3, with the work Newtown: A Beautiful Place. The piece features work by local visual artist Clifford McDonald, a graduate of Booker High School's Visual Performing Arts Program, and arts advocate Cedric Hameed, who will share a spoken word poem. The piece showcases the beauty of the Newtown community and the space it holds in our history.
The third event will take place in-person on Thursday, June 10, and virtually Friday, June 11, and focuses on local architecture. Capturing the Van Wezel will feature architect Carl Abbott, of the midcentury group from the Sarasota School of Architecture, photographer Nick Ferris and poet Joshua Davis.
"Both local and national artists have participated," says co-founder Cynthia Burnell. Locals who have collaborated include artists Judy Levine, Kate Hendrickson and poet Avni Vyas, as well as printmaker Judy Just, who teaches classes at Art Center Sarasota. National poets Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Mary Ladany and Mimi White have work featured, too.
"It's been fun to see our ideas come to fruition, sometimes before we are even ready to go and tackle them," says Burnell. "But the help of the library system has been amazing."
Sarasota County libraries' Laura Hampton says what began as a series of programming to promote the centennial turned into a series of reading and performance that everyone can enjoy.
"People are interested in the process of what goes into these works," says Burnell. "You get a lot of information from the artists and poets behind the scenes, and we see this as an opportunity to get out into the community more fully."
So, the next time you are walking to the bank, nail salon, or even into the laundry rooms of the McCown Towers at the Sarasota Housing Authority, be sure to look out for the broadsides that live there.
For more information about Art in Common Places, click here.