Date: December 14, 2011
by: Heidi Kurpiela | A&E Editor



Circus legacy aside, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art wasn’t always the hottest spot in town for a party.

Those of you who make your rounds in cocktail gowns have probably noticed the 100-year-old art institution has let its hair down over the last few years.

Last season’s Hip-Hop Lounge, anyone?

The Ringling International Arts Festival seems to have served as a catalyst for fresh programming, although the addition of a modern and contemporary art curator and a posh party planner has certainly helped.

The posh party planner has a more formal title, of course. Her name is Christina Fraser, and she’s the museum’s public functions coordinator.

A 38-year-old mother-of-two from North Port, Fraser is responsible for organizing some of the museum’s biggest events of the year: RIAF’s opening-night party, the museum’s annual Holiday Splendor event, Ringling in Bloom and this month’s Greet the Light Solstice Celebration in the Courtyard.

The Dec. 22 party will mark the opening of James Turrell’s hotly anticipated Skyspace exhibit, a 3,000-square-foot room covered by a 35-foot-high canopy with an aperture that opens to the sky.

Several years in the making, it is Turrell’s largest Skyspace to date and the only one in the state.

Designed to manipulate the viewer’s perception of the sky, Turrell installed LED lights synchronized to change directions with the seasons and time of day.

Fraser is among only a handful of people to step inside the space since construction began on the project last year.

“I felt pretty honored,” she says plopping down on a bench facing the courtyard. “It’s very mysterious at this point to a lot of people.”

The lip of the canopy can be seen poking out from the Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing wing. When Fraser points it out, it looks like she’s picking out a UFO lifting off from Earth.

“I think it’ll be a big draw for a lot of people,” she says. “To celebrate the solstice here will be really special.”

Planning a party that revolves around something this significant might seem like a lot of pressure, but Fraser is the consummate planner, a compulsive list-maker and a DIY-crafter with Martha Stewart-like instincts.

“I’ve always kind of led the fun committee,” Fraser jokes.

A Port Charlotte native, Fraser operated a handmade soap business at the Sarasota Farmers Market before joining the Ringling Museum staff three years ago.

A business degree from the University of South Florida has helped make her resourceful. Faced with pulling together chic events on a budget, Fraser has learned to cut corners without compromising her vision.

For the Hip-Hop Lounge Party that coincided with the museum’s “Beyond Bling” exhibit, Fraser sorted through bins of recycled spray paint cans provided by Sarasota County.

In keeping with the urban/bling theme of the evening, she painted the cans metallic silver and purple, covered them in rhinestones and placed them in the center of each table.

When her friends turned out for the event, they instantly recognized the centerpieces as Fraser’s creations.

“The satisfaction of seeing people enjoy themselves is huge for me,” she says. “I guess I’m a hostess wherever I go. Even at my own wedding I was like, ‘That’s it. I’ve had my three drinks. Now let’s make sure everyone else is having fun.’”

And she’s not afraid to get her kids in on the project.

She recently employed her 10-year-old son to help her tackle the decorations for the Skyspace party.
For $2 he stripped all the leaves off a heap of branches Fraser cut from a tree in the family’s backyard.
She intends to paint the branches shades of silver and blue, which she’ll illuminate with upward-facing lights in the museum courtyard.

“I’m playing with a lot of glitter right now,” Fraser says, a mischievous grin spreading across her face. “I’m hoping to create my own personal wonderland.”

Greet the Light: Solstice Celebration in the Courtyard runs from 8 p.m. to midnight Dec. 22, in the courtyard at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For more information, call 360-7339 or visit


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