Changing of the guard: New leaders shaping future of Sarasota arts groups
Change is a constant in the world of the performing and visual arts, which often expand their reach through programming introduced by new leadership.
In the Sarasota area, nonprofit arts organizations have maintained more stability than the average, with long-serving leaders like the 41-year run of Richard Hopkins as producing artistic director at Florida Studio Theatre and the 39-year tenure of Victor DeRenzi at the Sarasota Opera.
Among the dozens of leading arts organizations, more than 15 have artistic or administrative directors in their job for 15 years or more.
But the balance is changing through some recent departures and hires, altering the makeup and the future of the area’s arts scene.
Related:How long have Sarasota arts leaders held their jobs?
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Here’s a look at who’s coming and going.
Art Center Sarasota
Lisa Berger ran one of Sarasota’s oldest cultural organizations for eight years after serving on the board. She left last fall for a new post as executive director of the Perlman Music Program/Suncoast. The center’s board of directors recently hired Kinsey Robb, who has a background working in commercial galleries, to run the organization. The center, which operates its own building on U.S. 41 next to the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium offers a rotating assortment of exhibitions highlighting local artists. Robb said one of her goals is to build awareness of the center and expand the focus to include artists from outside the area.
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Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota
Joseph Holt, artistic director of Choral Artists of Sarasota, recently stepped down as director of artist programs after six seasons to reduce some of his workload (he will still be accompanying several artists during the season). His replacement is Daniel Jordan, who has been concertmaster of the Sarasota Orchestra since 1998. He will be responsible for putting together a season of concerts featuring young and rising artists beginning in the 2022-23 season.
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FSU/Asolo Conservatory of Actor Training
Greg Leaming has enjoyed the longest tenure of any director of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory since the graduate acting program came to Sarasota. After 17 years, he has announced he will retire at the end of the current academic year. He was hired in 2004, at a time when Florida State University was considering moving the program to its home base in Tallahassee. The university will begin a search for his replacement. Leaming came with a background in teaching, directing and running regional theaters.
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Players Centre for Performing Arts
Jeffery Kin announced in August that he will step away from his job as producing artistic director of Sarasota’s oldest community theater toward the end of the 2021-22 season to become the general director of a proposed new arts festival that will allow him to collaborate with more arts organizations. His leaving comes as the company is preparing to launch its first season in a temporary home in a shopping mall as it raises money for its planned new theater complex in Lakewood Ranch. Donna DeFant, president of the board of directors, said the theater will launch a quiet search for his replacement and expand the effort after the holiday season if it has not found someone.
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Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College
Anne-Marie Russell announced last fall that she would step down as executive director and chief curator of Sarasota’s new contemporary art museum after six years. Russell led the final push to open the museum in the renovated former Sarasota High School Building and oversaw its operations through the beginning of the pandemic, which forced it to shut down just four months after opening. Virginia Shearer, a former education director at The Ringling Museum of Art and most recent education director at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, started her new job on Aug. 30. The museum was cited as a reason why Time magazine chose Sarasota for its list of the world’s 100 greatest places for 2021.
Anu Tali put down her baton as music director of the Sarasota Orchestra in 2019, and the organization launched a season-long search for her replacement, with a host of guest conductors. The season was interrupted by the pandemic, but one of the conductors who did get to lead the ensemble, Bramwell Tovey, was announced last month as the new music director. He was the longtime music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and is the principal conductor of the BBC Concert orchestra. He will take on the organization as it pursues its plans to build its own music center. Tovey will be only the fifth music director since the organization was founded. Paul Wolfe led the orchestra for 35 years.
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After the death of longtime artistic director Allan Kollar in August 2020, Venice Theatre named Benny Sato Ambush to succeed him. Ambush, who brings years of experience in professional and collegiate theater, will serve at least through the American Association of Community Theater's 2022 WorldFest, which Venice Theatre will host. Ambush served as an adjudicator when Venice hosted its first WorldFest in 2014. He becomes only the second artistic director of color in the Sarasota area after Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe founder Nate Jacobs. Venice is the only theater in the area with a director of diversity as it works to broaden the range of its programs. Ambush has served as senior distinguished producing director-in-residence at Emerson Stage at Emerson College and was producing artistic director at Oakland Ensemble Theatre and associate artistic director at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. He recently directed “Almost, Maine” at Venice Theatre and is slated to direct Moliere’s “The Learned Ladies¨ for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory in February.
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