Ringling Museum hosts social event to engage college communities

Sarasotans need not look further than their own backyards for the bizarre, thanks to property investments by the Ringling brothers. Vibrant entertainment is rooted in this community and the Ringling Museum aims to engage Sarasota with the colorful legacy the brothers left behind.

“Sarasota as it is today is largely a result of [John] Ringling’s efforts in terms of real estate,” David Berry, the Ringling Museum of Art Assistant Director for Academic and Student Affairs, said. “He played a very prominent role in the development of the community. [The museum] wants to strengthen those ties.”

As a step toward that effort, Ringling Museum held an open house on Sept. 8 to expose students and members of the community to the resources the museum has to offer. The open house lasted two hours, but other than the food and music, no special events were planned.

“I’d say we had just over 150 students come through and they’re still trickling in from every school –  a lot of Ringling and New College students, a lot of [State College of Florida] students and some schools that we didn’t even advertise to, like Seminole State College,” Public Functions Coordinator Christina Fraser said near the end of the event.

According to Fraser, many local students are unaware of the resources the museum has to offer, including one of the largest art reference libraries in the country, Ringling’s archives, a circus museum with the largest circus model in the world and a very knowledgeable staff and volunteer base.

“There’s a real interest and enthusiasm within the museum to try to strengthen ties with the … universities that make up our local community,” Berry said.  “We’re trying to find ways that we can collaborate because there’s great potential as far as mutual benefit there.” One idea, Berry said, is to have students run additional tours of the museum with less focus on historical facts and more on their related personal interests. “Maybe you have someone is who training as an artist, or local people who are circus performers themselves,” he said. “It might be interesting to have them lead a session where they are communicating to an audience based on their own experience. That brings a fresh perspective to the museum.”

Berry said the museum is open to working with universities to see where else they might collaborate. “Say there’s a course that someone is organizing,” he said. “There might be connections between the subject of that course and something that [the museum is] looking to do.” Other ideas include hosting “discussions or debates related to subjects that might come out of, say, the subject of a play that’s being staged here.”

Students could also get involved with the everyday business of the museum and with the planning, design and installation of exhibits. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is to get people not just to attend events but to start to take ownership, to have the sense that this is my museum, this is here for me,” Berry said.

Part of that involves reminding the community that the grounds are open for them to wander. Local college students have free access to the grounds, galleries and museums every day from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Thursdays until 8 p.m.

“What I’d like to encourage is this being … a place where you can just walk around or … bring a sketchbook or a camera or … sit and read,” Berry said. “It’s not just a place you come to when there’s a lecture or exhibition, but it’s a place you think of when you want to go on a date or when you want to take some time off.”

The museum has some new features for those who do visit often, including an extension of the   Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center that Berry said will open by the end of September. “That will feature information about famous circus people [and] the different roles within the circus,” Berry said. “It tells personal stories as opposed to the story of a business or an industry.” Berry added that the displays here will be interactive. “For example … as you enter in you’ll see a small wooden car,” he said. “That used to be Lou Jacobs’ car. Lou Jacobs was a very famous clown who was [over] 6 feet tall and he used to get into that tiny little car. Now, visitors will have the chance to get into that car themselves.”

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