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Sarasota County Arts Thrive on Florida’s Cultural Coast®

April 11, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

The Ringling Estate: History, Architecture Art & Theater

In the 1920s John Ringling built a winter estate that is as renowned for its art as its architecture. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus magnate’s exquisite home, Cà d’Zan (“House of John”), is an architectural masterpiece, designed to resemble a Venetian Gothic palace. When Ringling died in 1936, he bequeathed the estate, including the mansion and art collection, to the state of Florida. The Ringling currently contains more than 600 Baroque masterpieces and includes a Peter Paul Rubens collection that is considered the finest in the world.

Also on the grounds of the estate is the Historic Asolo Theatre, an 18th-century palace playhouse originally constructed in Asolo, Italy, that Ringling dismantled and brought to his Sarasota estate in the 1940s. Today the Asolo Repertory Company serves as a springboard for new productions, along with performers headed for Broadway and other award-winning actors, directors and designers who produce up to 15 productions each season. 

The Greatest Show Lives On…

Ringling’s circus legacy has inspired several opportunities for circus lovers to revisit their childhoods in “America’s Circus City.”


The Circus Museums at The Ringling house a colorful collection of vintage circus posters, irresistible memorabilia and the world’s smallest miniature circus, The Howard Bros. Circus Model, a replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919 to 1938.

Circus fans can also enjoy live ringside entertainment featuring youth performers at Sailor Circus or seasoned professionals at Circus Sarasota. 

Other Performing Arts

Sarasota maintains no less than five professional theater companies along with two community theaters that have been in the area for more than half a century. Professional venues include Florida Studio Theatre, Banyan Theater, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida and Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the latter presenting national tours of popular Broadway shows, comedy acts, dance and music. The Players Theater has been presenting amateur theater since 1936.  The Venice Theatre has been in business since 1950 and is the third largest community theater in the country.

The Sarasota Ballet is Florida Gulf Coast’s first and only professional ballet company, hailed by New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay as “…America’s foremost exponent of Ashton ballets.” Currently under the direction of Director Iain Webb, the company presents seven productions and a Sir Frederick Ashton Festival honoring the choreographer. 

Sarasota’s Musical Classics

Classical music lovers are drawn to Sarasota by the offerings of the Sarasota Orchestra, the Sarasota Opera and the city’s many annual music festivals.

The Sarasota Orchestra was founded in 1949 and presents more than 100 classical, pops, and family concerts each year. This year will be the first under Music Director Anu Tali.  Each summer the orchestra’s internationally recognized Sarasota Music Festival brings together some of the most talented student musicians from all corners of the globe.

Classical music lovers also may want to visit Sarasota anytime between October and June for the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, which brings some of the most accomplished professional musicians to the Asolo Theatre stage.

The Sarasota Opera House enjoyed a cultural and architectural rebirth when the Asolo Opera Guild bought the Mediterranean styled venue in 1973, making the guild the seventh association in the U.S. to own its own house. The Opera House’s grand architecture in recent years has been restored to its original 1926 glory.  The guild’s Masterwork Revivals Series and Apprentice Artists program have received international acclaim, and its annual festival of chamber music, performed by the La Musica di Asolo ensemble under the direction of Bruno Giuranna, attracts music lovers from around the world each spring to the shores of Sarasota.

Finally, the Jazz Club of Sarasota, founded by the late Hal Davis, Benny Goodman’s publicist, hosts an annual Jazz Festival every April.  This year’s festival will take place February 23 through March 1, 2014.  

Visual Art Scene

Ringling’s artistic legacy extends past the grounds of his estate to the renowned art school that bears his name, the Ringling College of Art + Design.  The college’s curriculum covers all aspects of visual art, from advertising design and online games to sculpture and film.  The campus’ eight galleries host guest artists and juried presentations throughout the year, including the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, which provides classes and workshops for visitors who wish to explore their own creativity.

The Towles Court artist colony recently was named among Coastal Living magazine’s“Top Ten Artists Colonies.” Towles’ collection of bungalows and cottages houses a dozen professional artists, studios, galleries, shops and restaurants.

Venice’s Clyde Butcher Art Gallery showcases a collection of the renowned photographer’s black and white photographs of Florida’s natural landscape as well as Butcher’s hand-crafted equipment—one of several galleries around the world that showcases the artist’s work.

And in keeping with Sarasota’s artistic legacy, Sarasota Season of Sculpture is responsible for maintaining Sarasota’s public art collection.  Now in its seventh  season, Sarasota Season of Sculpture has made the city a desirable destination for cultural travelers who value public art.

Festive Occasions

Sarasota’s balmy weather year-round enables the city to host numerous festivals that continue to draw international acclaim.

The Ringling International Arts Festival is a multi-day festival of theater, visual art, music and dance held each October, presented by The Ringling Museum in collaboration with the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York.

The Sarasota Film Festival usually takes place in April every year. SFF historically hosts more than 200 national and international films along with nationally-recognized education programs, special events, talk-backs and panels featuring some of the leading voices in film. Additionally, the Sarasota Film Society Cine-World Festival hosts a festival of cutting-edge film each November at its two venues, the Burns Court Cinemas in downtown and the Lakewood Ranch Cinemas in Lakewood Ranch.

At the end of the year, the Atomic Holiday Bazaar electrifies the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium in December with an arts and crafts show that rivals Katy Perry’s most outlandish video.  Now in its eighth season, the two-day affair features vintage arts and crafts fare with an indie flair. 

Cultural Heritage

Many believe that Sarasota’s history began with Ponce de Leon’s discovery of the fabled Fountain of Youth, which is today the site of the Warm Mineral Springs.  However, historical sites and artifacts reveal a tapestry of stories that weave ancient tribal culture with later pioneers of land, business and art.

Historic Spanish Point, now in its 31st year, is the site where preserved remains and artifacts were excavated from a burial site and midden that provide a glimpse of tribal life nearly 2,000 years ago.  In addition, several structures built in the late 19th century are found at the site, providing insights into the daily life of pioneers such as the Webb family, who helped bring tourists to the area by hosting the first winter resort, and Mrs. Bertha Palmer, an international socialite whose varied business interests during Florida’s land boom contributed to Sarasota’s settlement.

For a look at some of the first reptiles and mammals who roamed Sarasota and her islands, visit the South Florida History Museum. The largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf coast, the museum interprets the area’s history from the Pleistocene to the present.

Finally, appreciators of architecture may enjoy a drive around Lido Key to admire the work of a group of post-war architectural groundbreakers who created a design now known as the Sarasota School of Architecture or “Sarasota Modern,” characterized by stark lines, large sunshades, oversized sliding glass doors and floor-to-ceiling jalousie windows.  The Craig residence at 175 Morningside Drive is a perfect example of the Sarasota Modern style.

For more information on discovering Sarasota County, call Visit Sarasota County at 800-522-9799 or visit http://visitsarasota .org, as well as

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