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.
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.
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.
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.”
Site analysis and building plans for a new performing arts center begin. Cost estimation based off user input starts to take shape.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Siting and engineering study is underway for building, location and access strategies. Sasaki is focusing on coastal resilience and sustainability.
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.
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
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
“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
“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 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
“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
“This is a place children can come express themselves, demonstrate their skills, and connect and engage with the arts.”
– Faith Nawara
Early Learning Professional
“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
“The transformation of our Bayfront really preserves the essence of Sarasota, where culture and natural beauty were important”
– Michael Saunders
Michael Saunders & Company
Ali and Gloria Bahaj
David and Myrna Band
Gerald and Sondra Biller
Boar’s Head Provisions Co, Inc.
Community Foundation of Sarasota County
Herta Cuneo †
Phil and Julie Delaney
Brian and Caroline Ellerson
Gulf Coast Community Foundation
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
Jim and Susan Travers
Williams Parker Attorneys at Law
Patricia Holmes White
Susan and Charles Wilson
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