A Vision for Sarasota Performing Arts Center (SPAC)

sarasota performing arts center - spac

Our Vision, Mission and Values

The Foundation has long been a cultural leader in Greater Southwest Florida, with a legacy and mission that mirror each other.

To remain relevant, we know that we must also be responsive to the changing needs of our communities. By agreeing to lead the creation and operation of a new performing arts center in Sarasota, we are ensuring that both the performing arts and our mission-driven impact will endure.

After many years of collaborating with our partners, including the city, the Bay Park Conservancy, and collecting input from the public, it became clear that the community has a shared vision: a contemporary performing arts center that entertains and educates, while elevating Sarasota as a cultural icon.

To make Sarasota a preeminent destination for the performing arts in the nation.

To create and sustain a vibrant performing arts center, advance education, and enrich communities by inspiring minds through the power of the arts.

Passion. Inclusivity. Collaboration. Stewardship. 

Strategic Plan

The strategic plan that defines our path will ensure a contemporary performing arts model of national significance for Sarasota. The venue will be a magnet destination for generations, with the potential to advance education and enrich communities across the state and country.

The new performing arts center will be: A Place for the Arts. A Place for Ideas. A Place for You.

Guiding Principles For
Sarasota Performing Arts Center

  • Realizing a new performing arts center throughout our region that will serve as a civic asset for generations to come.

  • Elevating Sarasota as a first-choice destination for the most celebrated and acclaimed performers, artists, dancers, musicians and ensembles.

  • Enhancing the patron experience through contemporary facilities, advanced technology and universal accessibility and design.

  • Expanding educational programming and engagement to serve more teachers, students and lifelong learners, as well as provide access to the arts to underserved communities.

  • Raising our sights for creative exploration to reinforce Sarasota as the preeminent cultural destination along Florida’s Gulf Coast. 

Building a Mission-Based Civic Asset

Nestled along The Bay, the Sarasota Performing Arts Center will become an iconic, mission-based civic asset serving our entire region for generations to come.


  • Creating thousands of planning and consruction jobs over the next five to seven years

  • Driving commerce to local businesses year-round

  • Enhancing tourism, hospitality and property values

  • Stimulating new sources of revenue and investment


  • 230,000 sq. ft. iconic structure

  • 2,250-seat main stage to present world-class productions

  • Flexible 400-seat venue for more intimate performances

  • 10,000 sq. ft. education and lifelong learning center

  • Multiple outdoor public performance spaces

A Community Asset

  • Improving the quality of life for generations

  • Fueling academic success and personal growth for children and their families

  • Promoting wellness body, mind and spirit

  • Enhancing civic pride throughout our region
spac - a place for ideas

A Place for Ideas

Expand educational programming to serve more students, teachers and families, and cultivate lifelong learning opportunities.

spac - a place for the arts

A Place for the Arts

Design a state-of-the-art performance center to recognize Sarasota as a first-choice destination for the most celebrated and acclaimed performers, artists, dancers and musicians.

spac - a place for you

A Place for You

Enhance the patron experience through contemporary facilities, advanced technology and universal accessibility to support a broad variety of performances and outdoor programming experiences.

Sarasota Performing Arts Center History

The Journey

From first conception to community approval, so much has been accomplished on our journey. Here is a glimpse into the milestone moments on the quest to bring the Sarasota Performing Arts Center to life.

As our history grows, so does the Foundation vision.

Bayfront 20:20 Formed

How will decisions made about the bayfront affect future generations? The goal was to gain consensus among community and neighborhood leaders. A vision statement was developed to encourage community support and input: “We support the creation of a long-term master plan for the Sarasota bayfront area that will establish a cultural and economic legacy for the region while ensuring open, public access to the bayfront.”

Foundation Engages AMS for Data

Site analysis and building plans for a new performing arts center begin. Cost estimation based off user input starts to take shape.

Sarasota City Commission Adopts Guiding Principles

Through the outreach of Bayfront 20:20, community groups begin to sign on for a unified common vision statement. A crucial accomplishment is the development of Implementation Guiding Principles in support of the vision. The Sarasota City Commission adopts the Guiding Principles to guide bayfront redevelopment efforts.

Fundraising Study

The Van Wezel Foundation partners with fundraising consultant Carter Global to begin a feasibility study. Key community leaders, stakeholders, and philanthropists are interviewed. Results are overwhelmingly positive that the resources would be available to build a state-of-the-art performing arts center on the bay.

Master Plan Chosen

After an extensive global search, Sasaki is chosen to proceed with a master plan of The Bay. the Foundation coordinates with Sasaki and the Bay Park Conservancy to provide input on how a performing arts center will integrate with the park.

City Commission Approves the Master Plan

Redevelopment of the 53 acres along the bayfront known as The Bay is approved, giving the Van Wezel Foundation authorization to work with city staff to develop a memorandum of agreement for a new performing arts center as the centerpiece of the park project.

The Van Wezel Foundation Evolves

A new mission statement is adopted by the Board of Directors: “To create a world-class performing arts center that enriches the community, supports arts education and inspires young minds.” As well as new by-laws and governance structure to support this legacy project. A Steering Committee is formed with over 20 key stakeholders to work in specific areas that include Community Engagement, Capital Campaign, and Strategy.

The Van Wezel Foundation and its Board of Directors announce that they have been notified of a $10 million legacy gift from the estate of Herta Klauser Cuneo. The donation will represent the largest single gift in the Foundation’s 30 year history.  Her commitment was instrumental in the Foundation’s ability to launch a vision for a new world class performing arts center for generations to come.

Thanks to the generosity of individuals, foundations and corporate partners, over $1 million is raised in seed funding. The Van Wezel Foundation moves forward with a meaningful collaboration with the Bay Park Conservancy and begin the initial planning of this important project.

New Leaders are Chosen

National search for the Van Wezel Foundation CEO was successful. Cheryl Mendelson was brought on to help lead the charge on this massive legacy project. Cheryl comes with extensive experience in public/private partnerships in the performing arts space. She served as Executive Vice President of the nationally renowned Harris Theater in Millennium Park in Chicago.

Jim Travers is voted in as chair of the Board of Directors. Jim is a senior technology executive, having built high-growth technology companies in the public and private sectors over the course of his 35-year career.

Sasaki Begins Planning Study

Siting and engineering study is underway for building, location and access strategies. Sasaki is focusing on coastal resilience and sustainability.

City Commission meeting
Click here to see our recent update given at the City Commission
meeting on December 2, 2019
Community Engagement Campaign

Launch community initiative to gain further insight by hosting public discussions, circulating in-depth surveys and holding meetings with community leaders, civic associations, and other groups.


In their own words…

To some, the Sarasota Performing Arts Center is a place of exceptional, world-class performances. To others, it’s the most rewarding learning experience outside a classroom. To all, it’s a memorable, inspiring, rousing adventure to enjoy and come back for more.

We’re proud of the rave reviews the people of our community have for the Sarasota Performing Arts Center. Here are some recent comments from our patrons, board members, students and performers.


“Through forward-thinking partnerships and a passionate commitment to respond to the needs of our community, now is the time to move forward and fulfill the master plan’s promise.”

– Cheryl Mendelson
CEO Van Wezel Foundation

“The Foundation is committed to helping the community realize its vision for a venue that attracts the most celebrated and acclaimed performers, enhances the patron experience, expands educational programming, creates jobs and adds economic value to the entire region.”

– Jim Travers
Chairman of Van Wezel Foundation Board of Directors

Here are our results by the numbers:

total respondents
full-time residents
seasonal residents
regular visitors

Want a new center with The Bay project


Want touring shows and headliners in Sarasota


Desire proposed amenities in new center


See Van Wezel as Sarasota’s #1 attraction


Would attend more shows at new center

Want a new center with The Bay project
Want touring shows and headliners in Sarasota
Desire proposed amenities in new center
See Van Wezel as Sarasota’s #1 attraction
Would attend more shows at new center
Want a new center with The Bay project
Want touring shows and headliners in Sarasota
Desire proposed amenities in new center
See Van Wezel as Sarasota’s #1 attraction
Would attend more shows at new center
  • 86% believe it’s important that a new performing arts center is included in The Bay project. Respondents feel a new center would enhance their cultural experience
  • 96% say it’s important to have touring shows and headliners in Sarasota
  • 85% desire better patron amenities
  • 91% say Van Wezel being the #1 destination attraction is important to their perception of Sarasota as a place to live or visit
  • 91% would attend more often if there were more programming options at a new PAC

Creating Impact and Support

“It’s what draws the impact and the infrastructure to help us support our specialty areas like ballet, opera, and theatre. It’s an integral part of the whole community.”

– Jim Shirley
Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County

Expanding Education

“What if every child in the region has the opportunity to visit the new performing arts center, the added educational experiences, and the performances.”

– Brigid Kolworth,
Early Childhood Learning Specialist

A Community that Believes in the Arts

“A new performing arts center has to be at the forefront of what we want to do to accomplish our community goals.”

– Cedric Hameed, Arts Coordinator
Visible Men Academy

World-Class Performing Arts Centers

“If we’re going to get the community to the same level of recognition in the past for its cultural offerings, it has to have a world-class performing arts center.”

– Darrell Ayers, former VP for Education
John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts

Providing Access

“This is a place children can come express themselves, demonstrate their skills, and connect and engage with the arts.”

– Faith Nawara
Early Learning Professional

Arts Education for Every Child

“The arts have an experiential nature, a hands-on learning, which is the key that unlocks passageways for learning students.”

– Nancy Roucher
Chair, Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County

An Enriched Cultural Opportunity

“The transformation of our Bayfront really preserves the essence of Sarasota, where culture and natural beauty were important”

– Michael Saunders
Michael Saunders & Company

Thank You to Our Supporters

Amicus Foundation
Ali and Gloria Bahaj
David and Myrna Band
Gerald and Sondra Biller
Boar’s Head Provisions Co, Inc.
Brunckhorst Family
Community Foundation of Sarasota County
Herta Cuneo †
Phil and Julie Delaney
Brian and Caroline Ellerson
Famiglio Family
Gulf Coast Community Foundation
Julie Harris
Hon. Jackie Lewis
Holmes Family Fund
Donna and David Koffman

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
Ed and Susan Maier
Brenda and Dave Maraman
Martella Family Foundation
Jonathan and Michelle Mitchell
Edward D. and Anna Mitchell Family Foundation
Bill and Elaine McClure
Michael Saunders and Company
Karl and Ricky Newkirk
Iris and Marty Rappaport
Joel and Diane Schleicher
Phil Steyaert
Jim and Susan Travers
Williams Parker Attorneys at Law
Patricia Holmes White
Susan and Charles Wilson


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