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Transforming the Arts in Our Community

A conversation with Cheryl Mendelson, CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation

Presented by Van Wezel Foundation October 7, 2020

Rendering of The Bay Park master plan

The Van Wezel Foundation is transforming the performing arts throughout the community. They have partnered with the City of Sarasota to lead the vision for the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center at the heart of The Bay Park. The new performing arts center is anticipated to open in the next six to seven years and feature state-of-the-art technology and design advances to present world-class programming relevant for all audiences.

Van Wezel Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson

Cheryl Mendelson, CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation, is leading the project for the new Center. “I am incredibly honored to collaborate with the City of Sarasota to build a world-class performing arts center as a central part of the city’s master plan to develop the Sarasota Bayfront and create a cultural and economic legacy for the region,” Mendelson noted. “The new Sarasota performing arts center will increase programming year-round and will be designed as a mission-driven public space that is inclusive, accessible, and engages the breadth of the entire Gulf Coast region.”

Establishing a preeminent destination for the performing arts

Mendelson is no stranger to developing theatrical venues with a purpose. Before her role with the Van Wezel Foundation, she served as executive vice president and chief operating officer at the Harris Theater in Chicago’s Millennium Park and played a vital role in the theater’s strategic vision, building its reputation as a national venue of artistic importance. “There are similarities between the Harris Theater and the Sarasota Performing Arts Center, which is why I came on board to undertake this project,” said Mendelson. “Both venues are modeled as public-private partnerships with local governments and located in public park spaces that transform communities. I am pleased to bring my experience to this community and further establish Sarasota as a preeminent destination for the performing arts in the nation.”

Launching a national model post-pandemic

At the center of The Bay Park, the year-round performing arts center will connect neighborhoods through green spaces, restaurants, and outdoor recreation. It will serve as a public meeting place that is welcoming to all audiences with enhanced patron experiences. Mendelson added, “We have a tremendous opportunity to utilize state-of-the-art technologies and universal design to keep our patrons safe and promote world-class productions. The Sarasota Performing Arts Center will be unlike anything else in our region, and it will be one of the first performing arts centers to serve as a national model post-pandemic."

Creating a mission-based civic asset for the entire region

The Sarasota Performing Arts Center will be an icon that serves as a community asset for education and improved quality of life throughout the region by advancing educational opportunities and creating multigenerational arts programming for lifelong learning. The new Center will also utilize the arts to promote healthy and vibrant communities that foster civic pride and community inclusion. According to Mendelson, it will be a place for ideas, a place for the arts, a place for you.

Specific venue features include:
  • A 230,000 sq. ft. multi-use space at the center of The Bay Park
  • A 2,250-seat main stage theater with a center aisle for accessibility
  • An intimate 400-seat venue with flexible seating options
  • A 10,000 sq. ft. education center to promote lifelong learning
  • Multiple outdoor public performance spaces
  • State-of-the-art technology, architecture, and universal design

The Van Wezel Foundation seeks public feedback and hopes the community will share their ideas and expectations for the new venue. From October 5 to November 30, the Foundation is conducting a regional survey to learn our community’s vision for the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center.

A national, scientifically based research firm conducts the survey, and all participant data will remain anonymous. The Foundation encourages the community to take the survey at www.MySarasotaPerformingArtsCenter.org.

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