Take Your Time and Look Slowly

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For years I lived around the corner from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and it was a regular stop for me, especially to view new exhibits. Weekend crowds often made it difficult to get close to artwork, so it became more of an exercise in getting through it rather than stopping at each painting to enjoy the moment. Sometimes I spent more time in the gift shop.

I was depriving myself of "looking slowly," a new term for me. That's a recent movement in the art world in which you stop to examine a piece of artwork to uncover the hidden meanings to better understand the artist's intent – and to have a more enjoyable experience. 

As the Tate Museum in London explains, "It is an approach based on the idea that, if we really want to get to know a work of art, we need to spend time with it…Slow looking is not about curators, historians or even artists telling you how you should look at art. It's about you and the artwork, allowing yourself time to make your own discoveries and form a more personal connection with it." The museum offers tips on how to maximize your experience and advises "Devote your time to truly getting to know a few artworks. Try to think of the gallery as a menu, rather than a to-do list."

It was a revelation when I stood in front of several pieces of art in the Sarasota Art Museum's current exhibition State of the Art 2020: Constructs which is described as an exploration of how contemporary art – is produced all across the country including regions outside traditional art centers – reflects the present moment. 

These constructs include several ideas woven through the piece. It's up to the viewer to decide what she sees. Under the guidance of Stephenie Frasher, Arts Advocates' lead docent and also a docent at SAM we viewed only four pieces and I was surprised to learn that we spent an hour doing it. The time flew by.

Here is a painting "A Forrest of Uncertain Things" (2019), by Amy Casey. My first impression was that the cutoff trees and falling houses signified the end of civilization. But maybe not. If you look more closely, in this snippet from the painting, you'll see sprigs of greenery. Are they the last vestiges of civilization or do they signify a renewal of life? Up to you to decide.

I had a college professor who said he would visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at one painting. He would stay for a while and then leave. I thought it was strange at the time, but now I realize he was "slow looking" and was satisfied with just one enriching experience. 

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Still Going Strong

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Time hasn't slowed Jean Allen, a member of Arts Advocates for almost 40 years. At age 98, she recently renewed her driver's license and drove to the recent scholarship luncheon where she renewed friendships and celebrated our scholars.

In a recent conversation, Jean reminisced about the early years of Arts Advocates, then known as The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Inc. "We were a much smaller organization then," she said. "I headed docents at the very beginning for the Van Wezel tours of our artwork and was involved in many other ways." The organization has evolved over time, she said.

"For years we had a Christmas luncheon where we celebrated the holidays and members donated jewelry to auction off and raise funds," she said. It was more of a social organization. Now, she noted there are so many other groups vying for people's time.

Jean taught home economics in Michigan public schools for 21 years and her former husband was an athletic director at Michigan State University where Jean earned a master's degree. For a time, they also managed the Mackinac Island Chamber of Commerce. Her second husband William Allen died, and Hodgkin's disease was fatal to two adult sons.

Jean's faith in God has always sustained her, she said. She offers individuals spiritual guidance, has lectured extensively, and written several books. Her "Threads of Time…Lives Well Lived 1484 – 21st Century" describes the struggle for civil and religious freedom in America. The dedication of her pamphlet, "Mystery of the Messiah…key to understanding" reads "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find." Matt. 7:7. 

Never one to be idle, Jean kept busy during the worst days of Covid by enjoying one of her favorite hobbies – designing and making her own clothes, as she has for many years.

Soon Jean will take off for Mackinac Island for her annual summer vacation, returning to Sarasota in the fall. Bon voyage, Jean, and we look forward to seeing you at future Arts Advocates events for years to come.

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Breathtaking Glass Art

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Located in an old industrial area, just a short drive away in St. Petersburg, the Imagine Museum houses one of the largest collections of contemporary glass in the United States.

Philanthropist and artist Trish Duggan began collecting contemporary American Studio Glass with the intention of opening a museum for it to be displayed. Artists such as Dale Chihuly, Marvin Lipofsky, and Fritz Dreisbach played seminal roles in popularizing a new method of using a small, inexpensive furnace that made it affordable and possible for the first time for artists to blow glass in independent studios.

Breathtaking masterworks by these artists from the US and now from artists around the world are included in the museum's permanent and rotating exhibits.

The collection of 1500 pieces continues to grow. At any one time, 400 works from the collection are on display. According to the museum:

  • It can take up to two years to create one life-size cast glass sculpture
  • Glass must heat up to 2000 degrees to melt
  • Large cast glass sculptures can take as long as six months to cool in an annealing oven even after the casting process is complete
  • Hours and hours of grinding and polishing create the transparency and shine in the glass

If you appreciate the beauty of blown glass, then a visit to the Imagine Museum is a must.

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Opening Night at the Asolo - Saturday, April 23rd

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The new musical Knoxville opens tonight at the Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota. The Tony-award winners composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens reunite for this musical adapted from James Agee's Pulitzer Prize Award-winning autobiographical novel "A Death in the Family."

The book is by Frank Galati, who directs, and is also an associate artist at the Asolo. The trio worked together on Ragtime, the smash musical, that has been revived and produced on stages around the world ever since.

The creative team for Knoxville gathered earlier this week at the Asolo's Cook theater for a behind-the-scenes discussion to describe the creative process and the musical's long journey to the stage.

The Asolo commissioned Knoxville four years ago. It was scheduled to open in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic. The intervening years were frustrating but allowed the creators to refine and improve their work. The refinements continued this past week during preview performances.

"We listen to the audience and make adjustments based on their reactions," said Flaherty. Ahrens persisted until she got the team to agree to change one word after the previous evening's show.

Who Does What?

While each creative has a role, the panelists all agreed that it's a collaborative effort. In anticipation of the question what comes first, Ahrens, said, "sometimes it's the lyrics and sometimes the music." Flaherty noted, however, that Ahrens prefers to get the music first.

Ahrens was the first to discover "the music" in the book, as she put it, and that dispelled her initial skepticism. The lyricist "is the liaison between the book and the music," she said. "We're basically telling a story in music."

Sharing the stage (from left): Michael Donald Edwards, Asolo’s producing artistic director; Lynn Ahrens; Stephen Flaherty; Bruce Coughlin; Tom Murray; and Caleb Hoyer.

Tony award-winner orchestrator Bruce Coughlin works closely with the composer, who writes the music. The orchestrator writes the score, assigning parts to various instruments that reflect the composer's intent.

The role of music supervisor is difficult to explain, said Murray, and the position has only existed for about 15 years. "Basically, my role is to listen to achieve the composer's vision and communicate it to everyone so that we're all on the same page. I help to crystalize the story to support the narrative and make everything cohere."

The music director hires the musicians, rehearses the musicians and performers, and conducts the orchestra. In Knoxville the musicians are on the stage and several of the cast also perform on instruments, which is not typical, said Caleb Hoyer, the music director.

The entire creative team has input on the tempo, sound, and musical emphasis. Too loud and the audience might not hear a lyric critical to the story telling.

What typifies the creative process is constant change, they all agreed. The team is editing the words and music throughout a production as they respond to what they are seeing and hearing from the audience.

An audience member asked the panelists, "What's next – Broadway? Is that your Oz?" At this moment there are no future plans although a Broadway run would be ideal, the team said.

"What's our Oz?" replied Ahrens. "Right now, the Asolo is our Oz."

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How I Learned to Write a Play

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As a writer, I've been a newspaper reporter, written blogs and websites, annual reports and more. But I've never written a play, so I decided to attend a Hermitage Artist Retreat program with a lecture by Paula Vogel, the celebrated playwright who won a Pulitzer Prize for "How I Learned to Drive."

Her many plays have been performed around the world, a little intimidating for a novice like me. As she roamed the stage in front of a flipboard on the grounds of Booker High School, she challenged members of the audience to create a play in what she called a Bake-Off. She describes this as a quickly written exercise on an assigned theme that folks do within a quick 48 hours – in other words, a play. We were given the "John Ringling Bake-Off" for homework.

Getting Started

Every play needs to include these elements, Vogel said:

  • Plot
  • Thought/Theme
  • Language/Dialect
  • Character
  • Music
  • Spectacle/Plasticity

Where do you start? Surprisingly, she said there are unlimited possibilities.

We could start writing the play wherever we want – at the beginning, the end or the middle. The plot could be linear: it moves from A, to B, to C, etc., or it could jump around from H to B to A. Or the plot could be circular: it begins and ends back in the same place.

Character refers to who the actors are portraying. The writing and direction must leave enough room for the actor to create the character who talks like a real person. Music is hearing the rhythm of the play in your ears as you're writing.

We've all marveled at spectacle – Spiderman or flying gods in a chariot. Plasticity involves how you design the words on the page. The playwright is never on stage, she said. The actors and directors need the space to visualize your ideas to get into character.

Writing a play is a long and arduous process. What looks seamless on stage is an intricately designed work of art. Maybe that's why I quit my playwriting career almost before starting.

I have always respected great playwrights and it's unlikely I'll be joining that esteemed club anytime soon.

Playwright Paula Vogel
Andy Sandberg, Tony-award winning producer and director, and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat.
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Backstage at the Asolo

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Vic Meyrich, Production and Operations Director, Koski Center, with a prop produced for the Sarasota Ballet.

The smell of the grease paint – the roar of the crowd. How our heart races in anticipation of a theater performance as the lights dim and the curtain rises.

That's been my experience over the years of attending live performances. Actors bring the show to life but there many more people behind the scenes who help make it happen.

That's why I was so pleased to be invited to a recent tour of the Asolo Rep Robert and Beverly Koski Production Center on Tallevast Road in Bradenton. It is a huge beehive of activity where carpenters, painters and other artisans make sets for plays, props, wigs and costumes in preparation for productions at the Asolo Repertory Theater and other companies including the Sarasota Opera and Sarasota Ballet.

The Koski Center also constructs sets and props for cruise lines and other performing arts organizations around the country. For example, it is currently building oversized wooden replicas of books for a cruise line show.

Led by Vic Meyrich, Production and operations director, who has been with the Asolo for more than 50 years, visitors saw dozens of chairs, desks, lamps and other props that that are used in productions. If one doesn't already exist, then the exact prop needed is built from scratch. Huge wooden panels dot the floors ready to be painted and turned into sets for future shows.

The Koski Center built the moving ladder (photo) for the production of "Evita" and the moving staircase for "Hair" (photo).

Preparing for the Future

The Asolo is in the middle of a fundraising campaign to expand its Koski Center and community outreach initiatives. A new building will house the Ted Weiller Rehearsal Hall and additional space for the costume shop. Upgrades in technology will provide state-of-the-art facilities to attract world-class artists and spawn productions that could transfer directly to Broadway.

While all this is happening, though, the Asolo is in the middle of high season with performances of three shows on sets that the Koski Center built. These have to be assembled, broken down, and re-assembled as the shows rotate performances over the next several weeks.

How fortunate we are to have this world-class theater and production center right here in Sarasota/Bradenton. For ticket information visit Asolo Rep.

Cast of Asolo Rep's production of HAIR, Photo by Cliff Roles.
Cast of Asolo Rep's production of EVITA. Photo by Paul Miller.
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So, You Want to Play the Piano

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Have you ever dreamed that you could play the piano? Or maybe you yearn to strum the strings of a guitar. It's never too late to learn to play a musical instrument.

You don't need to become the next Vladimir Horowitz or Eric Clapton. It's only important to challenge yourself by learning a skill that you can enjoy for yourself. Music is fun and also good for your brain. How do you get started and where do you find an instrument to play?

Sarasota Music Schools

This list is by no means complete, and not meant as an endorsement, but there are a surprising number of music schools in Sarasota. While most are geared to children, they also offer adult and private lessons. Here are three I found in a web search.

The Music Compound offers "lessons for all ages, instruments and genres…our memberships offer a variety of services for all ages and stages."

Sarasota Music Conservatory offers both adult and children's classes. Luca Stine, one our Arts Advocates scholarship winners, attended (his jazz ensemble is performing at Selby Gardens on February 17th).

The Suzuki Institute School of Music offers piano lessons, as well as violin, cello, saxophone, clarinet and voice lessons.

Many schools offer online lessons, too. If you don't own an instrument, you can rent one before buying it. Cadence Music rents by the month and your payments can be applied towards the purchase of the instrument if you decide to buy.

I wrote earlier that you can "challenge" yourself in learning an instrument. It is a challenge and you need to be disciplined in the early days of your experience while navigating in unfamiliar territory.

Practice, practice

To succeed, you must practice.

I know that from my own experience in learning to play the cornet. I was 10 years old when I accepted an invitation from the music director of my school to start lessons. I wanted to quit after the first week but I had promised him I wouldn't so I plodded on. I'm so glad that I did.

I learned to read music, participated in my award-winning high school band's performances, and marched in front of Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for four years. Playing a musical instrument has enriched my enjoyment when listening to music and attending concerts.

I know that you, too, will love playing a musical instrument if you make the commitment to learning. 

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What Does a Curator Do?

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An interview with Mark Ormond, curator for the Arts Advocates collection of paintings and sculptures. With over 25 years of experience in the art world, he has organized dozens of museum exhibitions, and authored, edited, and contributed to numerous brochures, catalogs, and publications on artists. During his ten-year association with the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, he was appointed senior curator & deputy director for collections and programs. Mark became the first curator and then was appointed director of the Center for the Fine Arts (now the Miami Art Museum). 

Q: What does the term "curator" mean? What are the responsibilities of a curator of art?

MO: The denotation of the word curator is someone who is the caretaker or custodian of a collection of objects. The curatorial responsibility usually includes being responsible for the exhibition of objects in the collection.

A curator researches evaluates, compares, and studies works of art. A curator may be hired by a museum, college, corporation, private individual, or other organization with a collection. A curator monitors the safekeeping of the artwork, the display of the artwork and its condition, and the accuracy of the database about the objects in the collection.

A curator may write about an artist or a specific work of art or a collection of works by one artist or a group of artists. If the collection has an acquisition budget or accepts donations the curator will make recommendations for purchase or acquisition. A curator also organizes exhibitions of art.

Q: How does someone become a curator — what is the typical career path?

MO: One can go to university and study art history and know-how to make art and have an advanced degree and most curators do. However, the only way to becoming a good curator is to have spent your life being in the physical presence of quality objects.

The most important experience someone must have to be a good curator of any period of art or artifacts is actually having observed and studied objects first-hand over many years. A curator learns by informed comparison and that means having seen the best examples and knowing how to recall that first experience with a new experience with a new similar object. That new object may be by the same artist or the same time period or from the same location as the object the curator may have seen yesterday, a year ago or ten years ago.

It is best that the curator has experience in the subject area of the collection. The person should be well-read in the subject area and be able to research and write about the work in the collection. A network of other individuals in the collection area is also useful.

Q: Are there different kinds of curators who work in different fields or mediums? Do their roles differ?

MO: Every collection area has curators with different specific knowledge about those collection areas. There are curators of historical artifacts who work in history museums. There are curators who are experts in science who work in science museums. There are curators who are experts on animals who work in zoos. Basically, their jobs are the same. However, a curator in a zoo is responsible for living creatures and so what the animal eats and its habitat are of primary concern.

Q: As curator for Arts Advocates, what are your responsibilities? What do you do for the organization?

MO: My responsibilities for the Arts Advocates collection is the same as what is described above. I maintain a database of information about the objects in the collection that I update whenever I discover new information. I make recommendations for the new acquisitions either by purchase or donation. I research and write about objects in the collection and I organize their movement, exhibition and display.

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Fanfare for the New Year

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It's thrilling to hear a trumpet fanfare preceding the entrance of a luminary or start of a special event. The rich, piercing sound of this instrument can give you goosebumps. A trumpet fanfare is especially timely to welcome the New Year.

Trumpets Soar

The fanfare is usually played on a trumpet, sometimes the French horn, or on a long horn with a ceremonial banner hanging from it, such as in the fanfare played for Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953.

One of the most famous is the fanfare that precedes the Kentucky Derby's "call to post" signaling the start of this famous horse race.

Fanfares are often accompanied by drums, such as Aaron Copeland's iconic Fanfare for the Common Man.

A series of short notes, called ruffles and flourishes, precedes the fanfare Hail to the Chief which is played to announce the arrival of the President of the United States at his inauguration and at other official functions, although many modern presidents have eschewed the practice.

We asked Luca Stine, an Arts Advocates scholarship winner, who is majoring in jazz trumpet performance at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, to record a fanfare especially for us. Watch the video below.

Trumpet vs Cornet

Why my special interest in this musical instrument? Maybe it's because I played the cornet as a schoolgirl and got to march in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade directly in front of Santa Claus.

What's the difference between the cornet and trumpet? While the cornet is shorter than the trumpet fingering the notes is the same. However, the trumpet has a more piercing sound, while the cornet's is warmer.

As trumpets herald the New Year, my best wishes to you for a healthy, happy and prosperous 2022!

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Dancing On Your Toes

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The Sarasota Ballet is back on stage with the women dancing on their toes, or on pointe and sometimes on their toes moving in very quick, small steps, or bourree, across the stage. While ballet originated in Italy in the 1500s, the art form migrated to France and over time French became codified as the vocabulary of ballet everywhere.

The dancing may look effortless, but ballet dancers are also finely tuned athletes. They practice during the day and perform at night, a rigorous schedule that calls for strength and endurance. Unlike other athletes who can throw themselves across the finish line of a race, or somersault into the end zone, dancers have to look and perform beautifully until the end of the piece.

To become a refined and accomplished dancer is extremely hard work. In fact, recent research determined that dancers have the most physically demanding job of all in the U.S., ahead of athletes, aerobics instructors, laborers and other demanding occupations. Dancers are excellent employees because they are always on time, rarely miss a day at work, and have endless energy.

That's why I greatly admire a well-known member of Arts Advocates, not only for her dedication to the arts, but for her skills as a ballet dancer in the early days of her career. Can you guess who this is? (Answer at bottom).

The Five Positions

It isn't necessary to know all this, of course, to enjoy the exhilarating experience of a performance. But understanding the basics can lead to a deeper appreciation for this art form.

Classic ballet training is based on five basic positions. (courtesy Wikipedia)

First position: heels together, toes pointing outward
Second position: feet point in opposite directions; heels spaced approximately 12 inches apart.
Third position: One foot placed in front of the other, heel of front foot near the arch.
Closed fourth position: heel of each foot overlapping the toe of the other foot.
Opened fourth position: heels lined up, one directly in front of the other.

Dancers practice these positions at barre (a stationery handrail for support) class every day. They are the foundation of classical training.

Who is She?

The photo above is of Donna Maytham, Past President of Arts Advocates, when she danced with the Richmond Ballet, which she founded. And here she is now with Ricardo Rhodes, a Principal dancer with the Sarasota Ballet, at the after party following a recent performance of the company.

Brava, Donna!

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A Joyful Experience

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A college professor once told me that he visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to view only one painting, a particular favorite, and then he would leave. The Met is the largest museum in the United States with more than 1.5 million art works on display.

How could he have resisted the impulse to wander through at least one or two other galleries with paintings by some of the world's greatest artists? His answer was that he wanted to enjoy his favorite painting to the fullest without any distractions and could always return. Why spoil a singular moment of enjoyment?

That's how I came to select only one 10-second video for this post to showcase a waterfall with colorful fish lazily sliding their way around a pond at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. I had taken many other photos during my recent visit but I was captivated by the beauty of this singular image. 

As I sat on a bench alone with my thoughts and my senses alive to the splendor before me, I realized I didn't need more now. I could always come back another time.

Art Moves Us

Viewing art is an emotional experience if we allow ourselves to live in the moment. It's also a physical experience. At the World Economic Forum in 2016 artist Olafur Eliasson wrote:

"Most of us know the feeling of being moved by a work of art, whether it is a song, a play, a poem, a novel, a painting…When we are touched, we are moved; we are transported to a new place that is, nevertheless, strongly rooted in a physical experience, in our bodies. We become aware of a feeling that may not be unfamiliar to us but which we did not actively focus on before. This transformative experience is what art is constantly seeking."

That moving experience, sitting by the pond and enjoying the riot of color around me, took me to another place, at least for the moment. That's the real beauty of art. 

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The Splendor of Tiffany Lamps

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A highlight of any trip to New York is a visit to the New-York Historical Society, the home of 132 Tiffany lamps. It is the largest such collection in the world.

These intricately designed lamps created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are identified with the Art Nouveau movement known for the use of modern materials, including iron, glass and ceramics.

Art Nouveau artworks were inspired by natural forms such as plants, flowers and leaves winding their way through lamps and other pieces. These elements are found in abundance in Tiffany's designs.

Louis C. Tiffany founded his company and was the creative impetus for the use of stained glass in his lamps, windows and luxury objects. But more recently, Clara Driscoll, head of the company's Women's Glass Cutting Department, has been credited as the designer of many of the firm's leaded glass shades.

Driscoll and her staff, called the "Tiffany Girls," labored in anonymity. Art historians credit Driscoll as the designer of Tiffany's signature Dragonfly lampshade.

The lamps were made in Tiffany's own factory in Corona, Queens, across the river from Manhattan. There chemists experimented with new glass recipes and sheet and blown glass to create a vast variety of colors and textures. Male workers cut the glass into the correct shapes and carefully inserted them into the designs created by the "Tiffany Girls."

Tiffany lamps and stained glass windows can be found in many museums, including The Morse Museum in Winter Park, FL, which claims to have the most comprehensive collection of works by Tiffany, including jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps and windows.

It also houses the chapel interior from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Winter Park is about a two-hour drive from Sarasota if you'd like to see these gorgeous pieces of art in person.

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Music is Fun and Good for Your Brain, Too

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The Sarasota Orchestra recently launched its new season with a concert at the opera house. I personally can't wait to enjoy their concerts over the next few months. I'm happy when I listen to music, and you probably love it, too, whether you're a fan of the classics or the Top 40.

Music is also good for our brains, scientists at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have learned. Those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and lose their memory of almost everything else can remember the lyrics and melodies of songs.

Tony Bennett is one of the most popular singers to ever grace a stage. But at 95 he's suffering from Alzheimer's. Although he's losing his memory, he can still belt out songs without needing to read the sheet music.

His recent concert with Lady Gaga was a sell-out at Radio City Music Hall. He sang for hours from memory. How was that possible?

Muscle Memory

Dancers are famous for remembering steps to a piece with "muscle memory." That means their muscles remember the steps – or rather their brains store the steps away in the recesses of their brains.

Now we know that singers like Tony Bennett and instrumentalists have musical muscle memory, which doesn't wither and die like other parts of the brain that control memory. If you're interested in the science behind this, click on How the Brain Responds to Music.

Listening to music is not only enjoyable but has many health benefits, according to UCF researchers. "If you play someone's favorite music, different parts of the brain light up," neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya explains. "That means memories associated with music are emotional memories, which never fade out — even in Alzheimer's patients." He teaches a course "Music and the Brain" with renowned violinist Ayako Yonetan.

Music Heals

While you're enjoying your favorite piano concerto or listening to the latest pop sensation, you're also causing your brain to:

  • Change your ability to perceive time
  • Tap into primal fear
  • Reduce seizures
  • Make you a better communicator
  • Make you stronger
  • Boost your immune system
  • Assist in repairing brain damage
  • Make you smarter
  • Evoke memories
  • Help Parkinson's patients

Tony Bennett on "60 Minutes"

Tony Bennett's remarkable ability to remember his American songbook in front of 6,000 fans in a concert at Radio City Music Hall was documented in a recent CBS episode of "60 Minutes." Yet afterwards he had no memory of singing at the concert. Here is the segment if you haven't already seen it. 

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Race and Art Matters

That's the title of the collection of stunning artworks by Robert Colescott now on display at the Sarasota Art Museum. The African-American painter and sculptor gained fame with his pioneering paintings that transformed well-known masterpieces by changing the white faces into black characters.

As the museum's introduction notes, "this provocative strategy challenging the long-standing taboos about racial stereotypes…to interject black objects into art history."

Colescott's debut came in the 1970s with a show at the Spectrum and Razor Galleries in New York. He reconfigured figures in the compositions of prominent artists in history including Vincent Van Gogh, Eugène Delacroix, Emanuel Leutze and Pablo Picasso as Black people. He also blended the images of white and black figures in his exploration of race and identity. His style morphed into a cartoonish style inspired by the comic strips that he enjoyed as child.

A recent trip to the museum confirmed that the renderings were meant to shock and they still do.

A sampling of his prolific output fills the entire second floor of the museum. There is still time to visit before the exhibit closes on October 31st.

Here is a small sample of the museum's display of his paintings. 

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Why Arts Advocates?

I was lucky to meet Donna Maytham when she invited me to join a group she hosts for discussions about ballet, one of my passions. Through her I learned about Arts Advocates when she invited me to attend "Speaking of the Arts" presentations by Tony Award®-winning writer and lyricist Lynn Ahrens and Baltimore Symphony Music Director Marin Alsop. Donna is currently our Past President and Gallery Director.

What We Do

I was impressed by the speakers and the organization's purpose, which gave me reasons to join – so I did. I'm the President now and honored to have been asked to take on this important role. It's clear to me why I joined and why Arts Advocates is so deserving of my support.

What makes us unique is our collection of paintings and sculptures, our role as a leading organization in Sarasota supporting all the arts, and our respected scholarship awards program for students who plan careers in the arts.

Our Place in History 

Jeannette Paladino, Donna Maytham, and Barbara Hyde, VP, at Arts Advocates Gallery opening reception. ©2021Maria Lyle

Arts Advocates owns perhaps the most extensive collection of Sarasota Colony artist paintings and sculptures anywhere. They've been on exhibit at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for many years. But with the pandemic's suspending performances there, it became apparent to the Board of Directors that we needed a space of our own for our renowned collection. The Arts Advocates Gallery at the Crossings at Siesta Key, with key pieces from our collection on exhibit, opened in July to great acclaim and media coverage. 

Arts Advocates Gallery at the Crossings at Siesta Key. ©2021 Maria Lyle

We are the essential organization collecting and preserving these works of arts by the Sarasota Colony artists. They are embedded in Sarasota's heritage and deserve our loving care.

Founded in 1969 as the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Inc. and now known as Arts Advocates, the organization over the years has added to our collection of paintings and sculptures by artists who migrated to Sarasota from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Represented in our collection are well-known artists including Syd Solomon, Ben Stahl, Jon Corbino, Mary Sarg Murphy, Helen Sawyer, and Jerry Farnsworth. Their works are also exhibited in leading museums in the US and around the world.

Mary Sarg Murphy – “Center Ring” ©2021 Maria Lyle
Jon Corbino – “Palette” ©Maria Lyle

They were inspired by Florida's natural beauty and the circus, which provided an abundance of subjects. Many began their own schools of art, helped found Ringling College, and made Sarasota an epicenter for the arts.

As Bill Hartman, owner of the William Hartman Gallery and son of William Hartman, a founding member of the Sarasota Colony, recently told me, the fine arts were the foundation on which our rich cultural community was formed. Throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s there were dozens of art schools and galleries showcasing Florida artists. The foundation for the performing arts in Sarasota was laid by the Colony artists.

Our Programs

Our art collection and scholarship programs help to define our purpose, but we are so much more than that. Even during the pandemic, we have continued monthly programs on zoom with prominent speakers from the arts world, held an in-person gathering at a Meet & Mingle event, and launched our first ever gallery. Next month we will gather in person for a luncheon program at the Bird Key Yacht Club.

In September, we started a new program to spotlight the professional artists who are members. Each month the works of an artist member will be exhibited in our Gallery and the artist will hold a painting demonstration on a Saturday from 2-5 when the Gallery is open to the public

I couldn't be prouder or happier to be part of this wonderful organization. I hope you feel that way, too. Our members are the backbone of Arts Advocates. You make it possible for us to do all that we do and I thank you for your unwavering support. I hope to see you soon at a program – online or in person. 

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What Is Art?

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That's a question that bedevils art experts and "civilians" alike. It's not set in stone but there seems to be a common understanding that art is an object that is created for others to experience.

The key word is "experience." Does that necessarily mean you have to enjoy a work of art? Do you have to love it?

Then…

Every new artistic movement has had its early detractors.

The Impressionist movement was led by masters like Monet and Degas, yet conservative critics panned their work for its "unfinished, sketch-like appearance." Impressionism originated in France in the 19th century and the subjects were mainly landscapes and scenes of everyday life

These artists were among the fathers of what is known as "modern art." Does anyone today not believe that Monet and Degas are masters of the genre? Do you know anyone who doesn't love their art? Here is one of Monet's water lily paintings. 

Expressionism, which also has its roots in the late 19th century, is defined as an artistic style in which the "artist seeks to depict not objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse within a person."

One of the most famous examples is Edvard Munch's The Scream, which sold at auction for $120 million!

Vincent Van Gogh is recognized as one of the masters of German Expressionism although he never sold a painting in his lifetime, only becoming famous after his death. Here is his famous Sunflowers.

…And Now

From the 1943s through the 1970s, Sarasota was a thriving art colony, recognized nationally for the celebrated painters and sculptors who had homes and studios in the area.

These artists came from across the United States and had a significant impact on the local art scene, representing major styles and trends of 20th century art. They were inspired by the lush flora and fauna as well as the Ringling Circus.

Arts Advocates has the foremost collection of Sarasota Colony paintings and sculptures on public display. You can experience them by visiting the Arts Advocates Gallery. Descending Yellows by Hilton Leech is the first painting acquired for the collection.

Then enter Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and others who led the Contemporary art movement. Incidentally, there is debate about whether these contemporary artists are simply an extension of the modern movement.

But Warhol no doubt shocked the art world with his famous Campbell Soup Cans. Why did he choose these objects? It's said that he asked a friend for inspiration and the friend suggested the soup cans.

The Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles saw the collage and offered the artist a show in the summer of 1962. For that exhibit Warhol also painted one of each of the 32 varieties of Campbell soup. The show caused a sensation.

I happen to think that Andy Warhol was creating artworks, including his striking portraits of celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor, and I like them. But not everybody does. Maybe you do -- or don't.

Is This Art?

This brings me to an "artwork" that I saw a few years ago at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a paragon of contemporary art. I snapped this photo because I wanted a record of something I couldn't believe I was seeing with my own eyes: a shopping cart filled with hub caps.

I definitely do not like this piece. However, my reaction to it fits the definition of art that we started with – that art is an object that is created for others to experience. Well, I did have a gut feeling about the piece. But I have to say I don't consider it art.

That's the beauty of art. As the saying goes, it's all in the eyes of the beholder.

Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts about this shopping cart creation. Do you think it's art? 

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Could You Live in a Tiny House?

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Is a home more than just a house? Does the size and design matter if you have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head?

The design of the houses we live in has evolved over the years. The famed Sarasota School of Architecture originated during the post-World War II housing boom and became famous for dwellings with clean lines, open-plan structures, and large windows to view the indigenous terrain and facilitate ventilation.

The renowned Umbrella House, designed by Paul Rudolph, was described by Architectural Digest as "One of the five most remarkable houses of the mid-twentieth century."It still stands today and the Sarasota Architectural Foundation gives tours (now on hold). 

Umbrella House

The post-war housing boom is also renowned for the thousands of houses built for returning GIs in the new community of Levittown on Long Island. They were considered small at 750 square feet.

Then – and Now

How small can you shrink a house – and still call it a house? A growing trend is tiny houses, defined as less than 400 square feet. Different styles were on display at a recent tiny house exhibit in the Bradenton Convention Center. Many of these houses are on wheels so it was easy to tow them right onto the floor of the large convention space.

It was surprising to walk through a 215-square house and not feel too claustrophobic even if you did have to duck to climb the stairs in one house on display that actually had a small loft on a second level.

The houses had gleaming stoves, sinks, and even dishwashers and air conditioning. Every space was utilized with pull-down tables and couches that opened up into beds. Small touches like a decorative pane of glass in a front door, wall hangings, and bowls of flowers added to a sense of hominess.

Take a brief tour and decide: could you live in a tiny house?

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Open to the Public

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Our new Arts Advocates Gallery opens to the public on Saturday, July 17. Join us then between 2-5 pm and enjoy viewing 19 paintings from our renowned collection by the Sarasota Colony of Artists.  

©2021 Maria Lyle

From the 1930s through the 1970s, Sarasota was a thriving art colony, recognized nationally for the celebrated painters and sculptors who had homes and studios in the area. They came from around the country representing major styles and trends of the 20th century.

Our exhibit includes works by famous painters (see paintings below) whose other creations are owned by major museums around the world.

Over the years, our works of art have been on display at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and will continue to be shown there as well.

The exhibit will be open to the public every Saturday from 2:00-5:00 pm. No appointment is required. Written information is available for self-guided tours. We are located in the Crossings at Siesta Mall on Tamiami Trail and Siesta Key Drive (enter through the north entrance next to Connors restaurant).

Docent-guided tours of the exhibit are open to the public at 11:00 am on the first Wednesday of each month. Group and special tours can be arranged through Stephenie Frasher, docent team leader, at docent@artsadvocates.com or by calling 443-454-2206

What You'll See

Included in the 19 paintings in the gallery exhibit are:

Hilton Leech. His "Descending Yellows" is the very first painting we purchased. 

Helen Sawyer. We own "Summer." She was married to Jerry Farnsworth, whose painting "Night Wind" is also in our exhibit. They lived and worked in Sarasota for more than 50 years.

Jimmy Ernst. His paintings are owned by the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Smithsonian. We own "Image Scape."

Mary Sarg Murphy. In the 1930s she was well known for her magazine illustrations and children's book designs and later gained recognition for her portraits. Like other Colony artists, she was inspired by the circus in Sarasota. We own "Center Ring."

Jon Corbino. He is represented in 64 U.S. museums. We own Palette "to Eva Lee."

William Hartman. His son Bill Hartman still owns the William Hartman Gallery started by his father. It's located on Palm Avenue. We own "Circus Wagons." 

Ben Stahl. He was an award-winning artist who also gained famed for creating hundreds of illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines. We own "Alice Mattock of Spirt Lake."

Shirley Clement. We own "White Dress." In the 1930s she was well known for her magazine illustrations and children's book designs and later gained recognition for her paintings.

We hope we've whetted your appetite to visit the Arts Advocates Gallery and enjoy more paintings in our wonderful collection. See you there!

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Together Again in Person!

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How sweet it was for members and guests to gather for Arts Advocates' first in-person get-together in over a year. More than 35 people enjoyed our "Meet & Mingle" event held on June 9th in the beautiful social room of the Beau Ciel condo.

Old friendships were rekindled and new ones forged as attendees enjoyed wine and cheese over conversations long delayed by the pandemic.

For the first time, Arts Advocates' new posters were unveiled featuring images from our collection of paintings and sculptures. For a donation of $35, guests could also obtain packets of note cards with images of four paintings in the collection. Judy Cole, who is a new member, won the drawing for a $100 gift certificate for Michael's on East.

Gallery Director and Past President Donna Maytham described the new Arts Advocates Gallery located in the Crossings at Siesta Mall that will open to the general public on July 17. This is the first-ever gallery for the organization.

Seventeen paintings of Sarasota Colony artists have been removed from the Van Wezel, where our collection has been housed for many years and will be on display for the enjoyment of our members and guests in our own Gallery. Arts Advocates workshops and special events will be held in the Gallery.

The exhibit will be open to the public every Saturday from 2:00-5:00 pm beginning July 17th. Docent-guided tours of our exhibit will be offered at 11 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. Group and special tours can be arranged through Stephenie Frasher, docent team leader, at stephfrash@comcast.net or by calling 443-454-2206.

Donna asked guests who belong to other social organizations to invite their members to visit the Gallery individually or by scheduling a group tour.

Special thanks to the following for their donations to the event:

  • Cabot Creameries – cheddar cheese
  • Cecelia Condor– the space and bartender
  • Jeannette Paladino – wine
  • Donna Maytham -- $100 gift certificate and note cards
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The Legacy of the Sarasota Colony

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They liked nothing better than painting and sculpting. But artists also enjoyed having fun at costume balls and gallery openings during the golden age of the Sarasota Colony in the years following World War II.

William (Bill) Hartman, owner of William Hartman Gallery on Palm Avenue should know. His father, represented in Arts Advocates' collection with the painting "Circus Wagon, "was one of the leaders of the movement.

Many Art Schools

"What ignited the art scene was the GI Bill," said Bill. This government program offered to return veterans tuition and living stipends for college or vocational programs. Airbases throughout the state trained thousands of pilots. Many came to love the area and decided to stay and study at more than a dozen art schools that opened to meet the growing need.

The core Sarasota Colony consisted of about 60 to 70 artists who were full-time residents, according to Bill. Many of these artists also had their own schools or taught at the Ringling School of Art, including Syd Solomon and Wilfrid Berg. Another was Hilton Leech who owned the Hilton Leech House and Amagansett Art School on Hillview Street that is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Seasonal visitors and retirees from the north provided additional students for the art schools. Sarasota, with all its charm, provided the subject matter. The Ringling Circus, headquartered in Sarasota, figured in many paintings

"My father attended the Ringling School of Art on the GI Bill where he met my mother," said Bill. He opened the Hartman Gallery in the building that now houses the Sage Restaurant. Next door was the Syd Solomon Sarasota School of Art.

Heart of Town

In the 1950s downtown Sarasota was the heart of the arts community. Businesses would pick an artist to showcase with an exhibit of their artworks. They would take out ads and host opening day parties that were well attended. Dozens of artists exhibited their paintings at the Sarasota Art Association.

"At that time, Sarasota was best known for the visual arts," said Bill (pictured below with a painting by his father.) The formation and growth of performing arts organizations came years later.

In 1956, Ben Stahl, a staple of the colony, was commissioned by the Catholic Press of Chicago to create 14 paintings of the Stations of the Cross for a new Bible.

"These paintings were fairly sizable and he wanted to show them locally. There was only one gallery big enough and it was owned by parents. My dad made all the frames for the paintings. Over the next two weeks, there were lines out the door and 5,000 people came to see the show. That's how important the visual arts were," said Bill.

Women artists were an important part of the Sarasota Colony. In 1953, The Petticoat Painters was founded by Martha Hartman to showcase the talents of female artists. Helen Protas, an early abstract artist, was a founding member. The by-invitation-only group still exists.

But it wasn't all work and no play. Besides gallery parties, "There were dances at the Lido Casino and the Beaux Arts Ball," said Bill. Colony artists showed another side of their artistry at this annual party where prizes were awarded for the wildest and most original costumes.

By the 1970s the members of the colony began to pass away, their artwork a lasting legacy of a movement that has only become stronger as Sarasota grew to become a destination for visitors and residents who have flocked here because of our flourishing arts and cultural community. 

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