New Sarasota Arts Festival Moving Forward
A new arts festival is gradually taking shape in the Sarasota area, and recent progress is moving it closer to reality.
Sarasota Rising is the name of the organization behind the festival, which took its first steps in 2021 under the wing of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. Now the group has achieved its own nonprofit status, along with launching its website, a newsletter and social media channels, and naming its first few board members.
“The idea of something creative and collaborative has been around for many years,” say Sarasota Rising executive director Jeffery Kin. “But it wasn’t organized and grantable.” Now, with the nonprofit status established, Sarasota Rising can reach out to the community for support, both financial and otherwise.
Of course, Sarasota has hosted arts festivals before, probably the most prominent among them the Ringling International Arts Festival, which brought artists from around the world to the grounds of the Ringling Museum each fall for almost a decade before the museum switched gears to year-round programming efforts. But the focus of the new festival, set to debut Nov. 10-17, 2024, is more to engage local arts organizations, big and small, in presenting multiple performances for audiences of all ages and interests.
To that end, Kin, the former artistic director of The Players Centre for Performing Arts, started testing the waters in the fall of 2021, as he puts it, “sitting in a room with a lot of people and sticky notes asking the ‘what ifs’” that are inherent to coming up with a brand-new event. Some seed money to commence that work came from the Downtown Improvement District and longtime entrepreneur and businessman Dr. Mark Kauffman.
Among the questions Kin kept asking and hearing, “How can we engage to boost cultural tourism?” Among the first answers: The festival should take place in the “off” season, it should be annual, it should be sustainable and some of its events should be set in the downtown Sarasota area.
“We’ve talked with practically every arts organization in the area and gotten their feedback,” says Kin, “and everyone realizes it’s become time for Sarasota to have this”—this being what organizers have named the Living Arts Festival—Sarasota.
Now serving on the board of the arts initiative are Jaime DiDomenico, founder of Cool Today and current vice president of business development for Wrench Group; real estate developer, manager and arts philanthropist Irene Kauffman; Ariane Dart, a producer of nonprofit fund-raising events and former board member of the Dart Family Foundation; and Kin, who says the board will be looking to expand its membership. Sarasota Rising now also has a small staff in addition to Kin, and a new office space downtown in the 1900 Building at 1900 Main St.
Kin says he personally has been on the go, exploring how festivals in other cities work, such as Charleston’s Spoleto and events in Cleveland and Miami. “I learned a lot I didn’t know about festivals, including security and safety issues,” he says.
Initially, Kin says, some of the area’s art groups may present performances tied to their own individual seasons. But over time he sees brand-new works being created just for the festival. He’s expecting festival components to include the culinary and visual arts as well as educational aspects, along with opening and closing ceremonies and awards being presented. Ideally, outdoor stages would welcome audiences to spaces like The Bay or Five Points Park.
Kin admits, “it’s a little challenging to get momentum as the new kid on the block," as far as funding is concerned. “But people are reaching out to me, and they’re putting their money where their mouths are. I feel a little like a plate spinner sometimes, but we do believe that in 10 years this will be an internationally known festival. We have the talent, the beaches and the infrastructure.”
To learn more about Sarasota Rising, visit sarasotarising.org.