As I reflect back over the unprecedented challenges of the last two years, I have been thinking a lot about a question: How do dreams become real?
More than 50 years ago, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall was just a dream — a dream made real through the connection between the city, the people, the Bay and the spirit of creativity. More than 30 years ago, the Van Wezel Foundation was established with its own dream to ensure that arts education and access thrive in our community.
When the city of Sarasota committed to a new master plan to develop 53 acres on the bayfront into a vibrant park, with a new performing arts center at the heart of it, a new dream took flight for our community — one focused on creating a new performing arts center that opens a world of possibilities for all and forms a place that our community can gather around for generations to come.
You, our community, also made one message clear: You believe in the potential of this dream to build a new mission-driven, state-of-the-art iconic performing arts center.
Since that time, the Van Wezel Foundation has taken important steps forward in bringing the vision for the Sarasota Performing Arts Center to life. Three years of steadfast collaboration between the Foundation and the city of Sarasota, in tandem with the Bay Park Conservancy’s Master Plan has brought us to this point. Working together, and with significant input from the public, we discovered that we all share the same vision of a contemporary performing arts center where community and culture meet.
We also recognize that to remain relevant and serve all, we must be responsive to the changing needs of our communities. Our larger responsibility will be to ensure that the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center fully reflects aspirations across generations broadening our reach through diverse programming and greater accessibility. All these dynamics — culture, the needs of our evolving city and region, responsiveness and relevance — have informed our vision.
Part of this responsibility will also be exploring how the performing arts can address critical issues of social inequity by sparking dialogue and prioritizing inclusivity. And, we want to leverage deeper partnerships, collaborations, and alliances to convey the shared human experiences of language, dance, music, drama and humor, where we can all find common ground. These aspirations are grounded in ideas, rather than in bricks and mortar or specific geographies.
A new performing arts center will be a catalyst for ideas without boundaries and an epicenter to grow the creative economy that has defined Sarasota’s prosperity. By the time the doors open, we hope that everyone will appreciate not just the cultural power of this transformative project, but also the social, economic, and reputational value this new venue will bring to Sarasota and Southwest Florida for generations to come.
We invite you to join us in this opportunity of a lifetime to make Sarasota’s new performing arts center a reality. The time is now to make this dream real — together.
Cheryl Mendelson is CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation.
To read Cheryl’s full letter to the editor, click here.