Peace Out, Artistically and Socially, at Downtown Sarasota's Fogartyville
As modern high-rises fill Sarasota’s changing skyline, Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center cozies up to a different aesthetic. A blueish painted building, with a modest outdoor patio and an indoor room with an old upright piano, a square black stage, a dozen or so secondhand mismatched tables with equally mismatched chairs, and old-fashioned ice cream shop-style booths against one wall, it feels like a 1960s New York City West Village coffeehouse. Posters of Martin Luther King Jr. and tied-dyed coverings hang on a wall, and a small kitchen area serves coffee, beer and wine, and soft drinks.
Fogartyville is about a lot of things. It’s about music, of course. On the weekends, musicians come from all over the country, and sometimes the world, to play the venue, set up less as a concert hall and more as a listening room. (No talking during the show.) On Activist Tuesdays, groups and individuals hold informational meetings for the public for free, making Fogartyville also a community house. It functions as an art gallery, too, with curated pieces on display.
“Our mission is peace,” says co-founder (with her partner, Dave Beaton) Arlene Sweeting, promoting world unity through art, music and education.
“I had never been to a listening room,” Shirley Richardson, now a Fogartyville regular, says. “It was music heaven. And there’s a real diversity to the talent they bring in.” Shirley and her husband, Jack, met their best friends, Lee and Russ Heitz, at one of the first events they attended. It’s a place of warmth and making new friends, she says.
The Sarasota Folk Club announced recently it would move its monthly concert series from the Sarasota Sailing Squadron to Fogartyville. There aren’t many places in Sarasota to hear folk music, but one of those places is Fogartyville, says Stephen Ingalls, who moved here with wife Mary three years ago. They were into the folk music scene when they lived on Long Island and in Massachusetts, but had trouble finding good folk venues near their new home. “I asked around, and a buddy said, ‘You should check out
Fogartyville,’ so I did.”
He’s been back many times since, not just for folk music, but other events. Some have not only expanded his musical tastes, to bluegrass and jazz, but the social justice events have exposed Ingalls to people he would not have met otherwise, expanding his political and social thinking as well.
“I have been a CFO and a finance guy all my life, and one of the first Activist Tuesdays events I attended was on fair wages,” he says. “I was sitting in a room with union people and panelists and it really opened my eyes” to the disparity of income of the workers “and the shifting of power away from those workers.”
Fogartyville is owned and operated by community public radio station WSLR (96.5 FM), which plays both music and news, including syndicated shows such as Democracy Now!. Daddy O, an 89-year-old jazz aficionado, spins 1-3 p.m. Sundays, with HotRodRock 4-6 p.m. Wednesday and De Mush Doctors Caribbean Rhythms 1-3 p.m. Saturdays, all with volunteer DJs. The center and station also publish Critical Times, a quarterly newspaper, under the slogan “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” (Sweeting and Beaton are co-founders of the radio station as well.)
Art exhibits are curated by Pamela Callender; Native American art will be on display Nov. 11-Jan. 5 and an environmental show celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day is also scheduled.
The continuing gentrification of downtown may benefit the center, located at 525 Kumquat Court in the burgeoning Rosemary District. An architectural firm has renovated a building right across the street, and other buildings are showing signs of improvement. Sweeting believes all can co-exist. “The foot traffic can only help,” she says.
What’s in a Name?
The Fogartyville Center name was inspired when Sweeting and Beaton were walking her dog in the Fogartyville Cemetery in downtown Bradenton in 2002, trying to think up a name for the coffeehouse they were about to purchase behind McKechnie Field. That Fogartyville space closed in 2007, but it became the model for the building on Kumquat Court. Through a series of ownership and non-for-profit moves, the radio station WSLR, also founded by Sweeting and Beaton and co-owned with the New College Student Alliance, and the center have merged as a single nonprofit. The organization purchased the building last year.