Published in Creative Loafing Sarasota, October 6, 2010
The Ringling International Arts Festival was originally slated to be an every-other-year event. But after the success of last year’s kick-off, the movers and shakers of Sarasota’s governmental, arts and tourism organizations felt they had to find a way to capitalize on the event again this year and started figuring out how to pay for it. Sarasota County had already committed $250,000 to RIAF, but after the city of Sarasota came up with $100,000 and Manatee County threw in another $250,000, organizers started thinking bigger. The final result is Festival sARTée, an arts extravaganza running Oct. 8-24 and stretching to every corner of Sarasota and Manatee counties, with events represented by nearly every arts organization on the Suncoast.
The original concept behind Festival sARTée came from Charleston’s Spoleto Festival, which has grown into one of the biggest arts festivals in the world. “Spelato Fest started as a fringe festival,” says Sarasota County Arts Council Executive Director Jim Shirley. “Our arts organizations aren’t crazy about the word ‘fringe,’ so [the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Arts Councils of both counties] got together to talk about doing anything we can to come up with a Spoleto-type festival. We went out to all the arts organizations and encouraged them to do events during that time to create a lot of cultural activity, and start building what’s going to be a bigger festival down the road. We’re up to 60 events now. Some were on the schedule anyway and got souped up to be part of the festival, but many of them are built from scratch.”
The thing that makes sARTée a truly special development is that it’s not just the usual players involved. Realize Bradenton, a year-old nonprofit that grew out of a cultural planning process aimed at revitalizing Bradenton, is bringing B-town into the mix in a big way with ArtSlam, a live art event where 17 teams comprised of all types of artists are given 12 hours to create installation pieces on downtown Bradenton’s Old Main Street. “It’s really pretty exciting because usually arts organizations work in little bubbles,” says Realize Bradenton’s Creative Services Director Kevin Webb. “This is something where everybody’s working in the same direction, which is pretty rare. Usually, everybody’s fighting for dollars… I think the links are something we’ll be able to utilize on a lot of other events and collaborations.”
It’s not only new arts organizations that have their place in sARTée’s abundant art offerings. The creators actively reached out to previously untapped cities like North Port in an effort to encompass the whole of Sarasota-Manatee. “We know how important it is to shine the spotlight on the arts culture in the area, and we’re really excited to have all of the municipalities come together,” says Lynn Hobeck-Bates of the SCBV. “We’re trying to do a lot more as a tourism aspect with North Port, and we know they have some great venues down there for arts and culture. We went down there and presented the idea and they just picked it up and ran.”
Erin Bryce, Community Outreach Manager for the City of North Port, says that the city actually pulled its entire contribution to sARTée together in two weeks. “Everybody wanted it and everybody worked very fast to make sure we were part of it,” says Bryce. “For the first time this year we have started marketing North Port to visitors, and we’ve really strengthened our partnership with the SCVB. Our arts and culture community is really kind of cool. Like North Port, it’s young and growing and experimental. We saw this as an opportunity to pull people in to see what’s going on in our arts culture.”
It’s safe to say that the collaborative relationships that have risen from the creation of Festival sARTée show the Suncoast arts community pulling together and moving in the right direction. “If we do it right each year it’s going to grow,” says Shirley, “and it’s going to be a major economic boost for Sarasota and Manatee Counties.”