The Van Wezel Foundation’s 2020 Inspiration Gala Raises $1,000,000


Sarasota, Florida – March 2, 2020 – The Van Wezel Foundation held its annual Inspiration Gala on February 21, raising more than $1,000,000 to become the largest, most successful fundraising event in the organization’s history. Contributions will help fund the Foundation’s mission to build a world-class performing arts center that will enhance the community, support arts education and inspire young minds for children and families throughout the region.

“On behalf of the Van Wezel Foundation Board and the Gala Committee, I want to thank everyone who generously contributed to the Inspiration Gala to help us achieve this incredible milestone,” said Jim Travers, chair of the Foundation’s board of directors. “Arts education is an important investment for our children, and as the Foundation looks to increase its programs and services to serve even more students through a new performing arts center, it will be essential that we work together to realize our shared vision. We appreciate every dollar committed to this endeavor.”

“I have had the honor of serving at the helm of the Van Wezel Foundation for the last year and have witnessed first-hand how the performing arts lift the human spirit and transform our lives,” said Van Wezel Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson. “The Foundation is well-poised to fulfill the community’s vision for a new performing arts center that will further ensure Sarasota’s place as the preeminent destination for the performing arts in the nation, and we are grateful for the generous spirit of our donors and partners.”

Kathy Martella and Susan Travers served as co-chairs for the Inspiration Gala, which honored Melissa Forsten, Joanne Fox and Tatiana Ignotis as the 2020 Appleton Teachers of the Year and featured a surprise performance by students from the Booker High School VPA Jet Stream Acapella Ensemble. The evening was capped off by an exciting performance by legendary rocker John Fogerty and an after-party.

For the first time, an Inspiration Host Committee was formed and the following local philanthropists supported the Foundation’s mission by donating a total of $275,000 in advance of this year’s gala: Amicus Foundation, Gerald and Sondra Biller, BMO Harris Bank, Jenne Britell, Jaclyn Brunckhorst, Vernon and Liliana Chalfant, Julie Harris, Ed and Susan Maier, Michael and Kathy Martella, Drayton and Kara Saunders, and James and Susan Travers.

Partners of the 2020 Inspiration Gala include Boar’s Head, serving as lead sponsor, along with Marquee sponsors Ali and Gloria Bahaj, Joan Lieberman and Jesse Marketing Associates; Spotlight sponsors HBK CPAs & Consultants, Karl and Ricky Newkirk, Tom and Pamela Reilly, Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen, William and Elaine McClure; and ‘Honor an Educator’ sponsored by Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Since 1987, The Van Wezel Foundation has partnered with the City of Sarasota to foster a connection between the people, the bay and the spirit of human creativity. Through this collaboration and the generosity of donors, the Foundation provides grants to invest in arts education and capital projects at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and educational outreach services with local community organizations. The mission of the Van Wezel Foundation is to create a world-class performing arts center that enriches the community, supports arts education and inspires young minds. For more information, visit To learn more about the many ways we can grow our vision for the community together, visit

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