Sarasota will soon be adding another museum to its already extensive selection of artistic and cultural institutions. However, this museum, with a focus on contemporary art and a commitment to community engagement, is determined to develop a new institutional model that will reflect the diversity of the Sarasota community’s experiences and interests.
“We’re building a new museum,” Anne-Marie Russell, the executive director of the Sarasota Museum of Art, said. “So we don’t have to struggle with working against 50 years or 100 years of an institution’s history. We have the opportunity to sort of do a better job and get it right the first time, but this is an ongoing conversation that we wanted to engage the community in.”
The Sarasota Museum of Art is set to open to the public in the late fall of 2019. Part of Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD), the museum will be located in the historic Sarasota High School building and will not contain a permanent collection, opting instead for a continuous series of rotating exhibitions centered around engaging the Sarasota community in discussions about contemporary life and art.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
The historic Sarasota High School building and the future location of the Sarasota Museum of Art.
The kunsthalle format of the museum–meaning the museum owns no permanent collection of objects–has become increasingly popular for contemporary art museums in both the German-speaking world and the United States. By foregoing a permanent collection, kunsthalle institutions can focus more on curating new exhibitions as opposed to maintaining and conserving owned works.
“Every contemporary art museum on the planet deals with what we call new art and new ideas,” Russell said. “This is the art of our time. What’s really interesting about a contemporary art museum relative to art museums that deal with more historical work–and when you’re working with living artists–is it’s something that should be accessible to absolutely everyone because anyone living at this moment in time has something to contribute to that conversation.”
The museum has hosted a number of events over the past five years to increase community awareness for the eventual opening of the three-building RCAD Museum Campus in 2019. These events have included a discussion on New College alum William Thurston (cohort of 1964), a talk by art historian Susan Cahan on her book Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power and a presentation by Ruth Erickson, Mannion Family Curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, on Black Mountain College.
As part of the Sarasota Museum of Art’s attempts to engage the community in conversation through its programming, the museum organized and met with students from the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) Student Outreach Committee–an affiliate of NCF’s Black Student Union–and RCAD’s Students of Color Alliance in the weeks leading up to Cahan’s talk and book signing.
“It was really important to us, with all of our educational programming, to not just one night present a speaker, or one afternoon present an idea, but to use that as a catalyst for the community to begin to have continued conversations on things that we feel are very important and central to the discourse around a contemporary art museum,” Russell said.
The idea for the museum has been in development since 2003 and, in October 2004, the School Board voted to lease the historic Sarasota High School to Ringling College of Art and Design to transform the building into the Sarasota Museum of Art. Built in 1926 by Florida architect M. Leo Elliott, the Collegiate-Gothic style building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984.
Though the Sarasota Museum of Art campus is leased by the Ringling College of Art and Design, the museum operates independently and does not consider itself to be a college or university art museum–in contrast to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which is associated with and functions as a teaching resource for Florida State University.
“Museums are educational, scholarly institutions and our mandate is to produce original scholarship around works of art, but also to interpret that scholarship for the widest possible audience,” Russell said. “So, you ask ‘Who is the stakeholder of the museum?’ and the answer is ‘Absolutely everyone.’ We are working very hard to reach out to everyone in the community. Sarasota is an incredibly diverse community, but perhaps not as integrated in a variety of ways as we’d all like to see.
“We’re hoping that the museum becomes a place where everyone feels super welcome, feels like it’s a place for them, there’s something they can contribute and there’s something they can walk away with at the museum,” Russell continued.
The final event of the season will take place on Apr. 30 at 10:00 a.m. and will be an Open House Meet & Greet focused on volunteer and docent opportunities. All events take place at The Works, located just north of the museum’s future location at 891 South Tamiami Trail.
Information gathered from ringling.edu/museum and sarasotamagazine.com.