An Appreciation

The Founders of WSLR and Fogartyville Are Stepping Down. Their Impact on Sarasota Has Been Immense.

Arlene Sweeting and Dave Beaton have been community fixtures for decades. Now they're moving on.

By Stacey Altherr April 18, 2024

Dave Beaton and Arlene Sweeting, the founders of WSLR and Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center, in 2014

Image: Robert Castro

Please don’t call it a retirement.

After founding and running Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center, the radio station WSLR and the accompanying Critical Times newspaper for decades, founders Dave Beaton and Arlene Sweeting are moving to another state to continue their social justice work.

“It’s not a retirement,” Sweeting says. “It’s a transition.”

Beaton and Sweeting will be moving to Elberta, Michigan, a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan. They have already settled into the home where they've summered the past few years, and they recently acquired two low-power FM radio station licenses that will be put to use for the community. They've also established a nonprofit: the Elberta Labor Heritage Center.

But before they transition, the powerhouse couple will be celebrated with a special event at Fogartyville on Saturday, April 27: “Rooted in Community: Celebrating Our Past and Building Our Future.”

Fogartyville began in 2002 as a café in Bradenton before closing in 2007 after Beaton and Sweeting moved to Sarasota and obtained the license for WSLR. Fogartyville, run by the Peace Education and Action Center, which was founded by Sweeting, reopened in 2013 in its present space. In 2018, the board of directors approved the purchase of the Fogartyville property on Kumquat Avenue, putting all three entities under the WSLR umbrella.

The Fogartyville name came from the Fogartyville Cemetery, where Sweeting, a former Bradenton middle school teacher, would walk her dog each day when she lived nearby. After Beaton, then a professor at what would become State College of Florida, learned about the cemetery's interesting history, they realized it was a perfect name for their new venue.

Today, the funky downtown space with a large outdoor patio has a schedule of diverse events—from discussions about dealing with your own death to concerts by jazz and blues bands. It also often holds social justice lectures and seminars; the latest was a series of workshops on citizen journalism.

Arlene Sweeting and Dave Beaton

“Fogartyville is about breaking the lines,” says Beaton. “You want to keep a sense of warmness or funkiness, so people feel more at home.”

WSLR, found locally at 96.5 FM, went live with its first broadcast in August 2005. Its volunteer DJs come from all different life experiences and play all types of music, from bluegrass to folk, pop and gospel. One personality, Dadee-O, recently turned 94 years old and still plays jazz during his show Collector’s Corner from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. each Sunday. WSLR also offers syndicated talk shows, such as Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! and The Thom Hartmann Program.

Beaton says the idea is to allow people to bring their own ideas and experiences to the table, rather than follow a top-down approach. "We stand for community," he says. "We stand with people and who they want to be."

“We live in fear,” he adds, "and the idea of community radio is to reduce that fear.”

Paul Scire, the senior director of social engagement for Sarasota Orchestra and a WSLR and Fogartyville board member, says that when he moved to Sarasota nearly five years ago, he was looking for a community center that brought people together and promoted peace, sustainability and social justice. He found that at the station, where he is a DJ who plays early rhythm and blues and soul music on Sunday evenings.

“It’s a special place,” says Scire. “It’s a place where people of differing opinions can come together in a positive way to build a better community.”

Arlene Sweeting in the WSLR studios

Image: Barbara Banks

Sweeting says she's "ready to move on" and that "it's a good time to turn it over to a younger leadership, a more diverse leadership team.”

Jesse Coleman is currently the WSLR station manager and is set to become the organization's new general manager. Leon Kerber will become the WSLR program director, while Ariel Aparicio will work as the new Fogartyville house manager for events. Joe Vermilya will also work with Aparicio on booking events for the venue, something Beaton has done for 20 years. Johannes Werner, a veteran journalist, runs the news operation, from the Critical Times newspaper to the news programs on WSLR.

“We’re excited for the team we put together,” says Sweeting. “WSLR is important to this community, and we wanted to make sure it sustains.”

Beaton agrees, calling Fogartyville an oasis.

“It moves to the next phase,” he says. “More people feel more ownership of the place, and that is ultimately what you want.”

Dave Beaton

Image: Robert Castro

Beaton grew up in Michigan and has many happy summer memories from those times. He and Sweeting bought their house in Elberta a few years ago. The town of about 300 residents is very close-knit, they say, and rural, with rolling hills, fruit trees and small farms. A logging town, Elberta had the world’s first car ferry, on which freight and cars would be shipped across Lake Michigan to Wisconsin.

“Elberta was a worker’s town,” says Beaton. “The lumber barons and university professors from Ann Arbor lived in Frankfort town”—a wealthy neighboring community.

The couple felt Elberta needed a history center, so they are finding a space for historical exhibits. In the meantime, Beaton and Sweeting will use the skills they picked up from running WSLR to start up the community radio stations there. And they may already have their first volunteer.

“The postmaster there has a CD out,” says Beaton. “He plays guitar. People imagine themselves in the opportunity. People want to be heard.”

Both Sweeting and Beaton say they feel comfortable moving on with the new leadership in place.

“I feel I can always come back home, because these are my people,” says Sweeting. “I take away a sense of community.”

She and Beaton have built a place where people can feel comfortable as themselves.

“I’ve been very intentional about creating relationships with the African American community, with the LGBT community, to make sure they know this is a safe place," says Sweeting. "Music and culture are a way to cross the boundaries that people put up between them."

The partners will be missed, but their work will endure, say supporters.

“They are two incredible, remarkable people who worked so hard and have brought us to this point,” says Scire, “a point where we are strong, and we can take that next step in the organization.”

“Rooted in Community: Celebrating Our Past and Building Our Future” will take place from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, at Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center, 525 Kumquat Court, Sarasota. Tickets are $96.50. The event will include live music and a vegetarian and vegan buffet. To purchase tickets, click here.

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