Jim Shirley’s recent days at the Sarasota County Arts Council have been a blur. But with new territory comes new direction.
Last November, Shirley made the switch from executive director of the PAL Sailor Circus, where he worked on a capital campaign to upgrade and add to the existing facility, to executive director for the Arts Council. The contacts he garnered during his involvement with the circus allowed for a smooth transition.
“It’s very exciting when taking over a new situation, but it takes a certain amount of time to understand the current status and what’s been going on that I didn’t know about,” Shirley said. “I’ve got a good, solid snapshot of where we are and where we’ve been, and I want to move forward.”
Shirley’s mission is to help the Arts Council reinvent its identity by providing advocacy for arts-and-cultural organizations, looking at alternate sources of funding, promoting education outreach and focusing on the future.
“We’re (working on) become stronger advocates to performing arts and museums, to do as much as we can to help influence funding, to help influence attraction for artists and to provide more venues for individual artists to showcase works,” Shirley said.
In the works for 2012 is a festival not unlike what the Ringling Museum accomplished with its inaugural International Arts Festival in October.
The Arts Council festival would encompass all arts, hosting performances at varying venues such as Van Wezel, the Sarasota Opera House and churches.
“It would bring widespread presentation and be a showcase for our community, one that will grow over the years,” he said.
The Arts Council has formed an active steering committee, appointed by the county, to develop the festival concept. The focus of the festival will be to attract tourists nationally and internationally. The major draw for Sarasota will be for local arts-and-cultural organizations to showcase their current works.
The committee is already collaborating with the Economic Development Corporation and Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau to explore ways to bring more opportunity for economic growth through application of area arts.
“We are fortunate to have Ringling College here,” Shirley said. “We’re looking at efforts to get involved in not only kindergarten through 12th grade, but also college. Dr. Larry Thompson (Ringling College president) and I are co-chairing a task force for economic development. With the incubator we have at Ringling, it will be a new source for jobs and revenue for the area.”
Its job, as the council moves forward, is to make sure people are aware of area assets. Shirley wants the Arts Council to play a more active and visible role in the community in all aspects.
“It’s an exciting time in our community and the economy, and we’re getting pretty good signals that things may be bottoming out,” Shirley said. “The way we guide our recovery is critical to our success. We’ll do everything we can do invigorate recovery through wonderful use of these assets that we already have.”
Title: Executive director, Sarasota County Arts Council
Hometown: West Helena, Ark.
In Sarasota since: 1990
Favorite part of Sarasota: Great population of diverse people, outstanding arts and cultural opportunities, beautiful weather and beaches
Hobbies: Biking, cooking, fishing, gardening
Interesting fact: “I hope to always view life through the eyes of a child.”
Secret desire: “To go back in time and travel with Lewis and Clark on their expedition.”
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].