Arts & Entertainment in Sarasota FL
Sarasota is more than just sunshine and sandy beaches. While those are certainly some of the top perks to this coastal city, the area also enjoys a bustling arts scene. From theatrical performances and ballets to museums and public artwork, the greater Sarasota area is a hub for artistic-minded individuals.
Downtown is thriving with world-renowned museums, theaters and other venues rich in culture. Places like the Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Opera are all top destinations for live musical and dance productions, while the Florida Studio Theatre, the Players Centre for Performing Arts, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Urbanite Theatre and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe cover an expansive list of the area’s theatrical best. For artists behind the camera, the Sarasota Film Festival screens thought-provoking films from some of the best known and up-and-coming independent filmmakers each year.
Sarasota’s history of arts and culture runs deep. In fact, it has strong ties to “The Greatest Show on Earth.” John Ringling—one of the five brothers who owned and operated Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus—purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota in 1911 with his wife, Mable. His brother, Charles, had already started purchasing property in the area. Their involvement in the community grew, and at one time, they owned more than a quarter of Sarasota’s land. Ringling gradually built a significant art collection and opened the Museum of Art to the public after his wife’s death.
The Lido Beach Casino also played a huge role in the area’s deep cultural ties. From around 1940 to 1969, the casino served as a pillar in the area’s social scene after The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce joined with the City Council to plan a public space that would boost tourism in 1936.
“The Lido Beach Casino played a significant role in Sarasota’s history,” says Jim Shirley, Executive Director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. “As the area was developing, its nightlife and beautiful, pristine beaches drew tourists from all over the world and helped put Sarasota on the map.”
Designed by famed architect Ralph Twitchell, the Lido Beach Casino became an instant attraction for daytime leisure, fine dining, nightlife and more.
“The Lido Beach Casino definitely had an influence on the art scene in Sarasota,” Shirley says. “As tourists and creatives came here to enjoy the weather and the beaches, many of them realized what a cultural jewel it was becoming. Top writers and artists of that day wanted to come here and be a part of that creative scene. Many of them ended up staying or building second homes here and our cultural reputation continued to grow.”
Today, the arts have a huge economic impact on the greater Sarasota area. These businesses and organizations not only attract a large number of tourists every year, but also employ a large number of residents.
“The business and arts communities have always worked hand-in-hand to help energize the economy,” says Shirley. “There are more than 6,000 people employed full time in arts and culture organizations, which, if you put them together, would be one of the largest employers from a business point of view. Many of those organizations have large budgets, and they’re paying wages to the people who work for them, who are then buying goods and services.”
This impact does not go unnoticed. The area’s nonprofit arts and cultural organizations contributed more than $300 million to the economy in 2015.
“We have approximately 2.5 million people that attend performances and/or exhibitions in Sarasota County every year,” Shirley says.
In addition to the direct financial expenditures, the area’s business and arts companies share a much greater community connection.
“One of the great things about living in Sarasota is that the arts and cultural organizations in the community are highly involved with the Chamber,” Shirley says. “And the Chamber is with arts and culture every step of the way.”