Skip to main content
East County Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 8 years ago

Art community rallies behind Southern Atelier

by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

SARASOTA — The distinctive stink of smoke wafts into the room as Charlie Miano presents a piece that endured The Southern Atelier fire three weeks ago.

The piece features three images of Miano’s partner, Mimmi Fitzgerald. One depicts a curious smile; the second a contemplative stare toward the ground.

However the third is nearly gone, eaten away by the same flames that caused an estimated $100,000 in damage the morning of Oct. 5 at the art studio, 2017 Whitfield Park Drive. The fire claimed a significant amount of the studio’s supplies, furniture and student artwork. Worst of all, a cabinet containing about 200 pieces of Miano’s own work was destroyed.

“I always tell my students, ‘Don’t get married to your work,’ and this was just turmoil for me,” Miano said. “I felt like I was having a heart attack — just initial shock and disappointment. All of that artwork — it’s gone forever.”

But despite losing their home, Miano, his fellow art instructors and their students never missed a class. They simply moved outside.

“It’s not about the building; it’s about the people, the knowledge,” Miano said. “We are out there with the greatest teacher of all — nature. It’s back to basics. Art doesn’t have to be expensive. All you need is charcoal and a piece of paper.

“It’s a rebirth,” he said. “We’ve burned off the excess and boiled down to the art.”

Some of the instructors, including the East County’s Sue Foster, opened their studios to host other classes and workshops. And next month, M Gallery of Fine Art will host an expo and silent auction featuring the work salvaged from The Southern Atelier fire. Artists Michael Lynn Adams, Oleg Radvan and Debra Carey also have donated work for the auction.

The studio also is accepting donations through its Web site,

After relocating from New York, Miano first opened The Southern Atelier in The Barn, a building off County Road 675 that once housed the Humane Society of Manatee County. But after the Sarasota Obedience Training Club took over The Barn in January, Miano searched for and found The Southern Atelier’s permanent home in a 4,000-square-foot industrial building in Whitfield Industrial Park Center.

“It was perfect,” he said. “It had these big bay doors that gave tons of natural light — perfect for a painter.”

Miano converted the space into an inspired studio completely by hand, painting the floors, building walls, installing an air-conditioning unit and gathering donations of furniture, curtains and more.

“There’s a lot of sweat and hard work in that building,” he said. “I put my heart and soul into it.”

Southern Manatee Fire Rescue investigators still are trying to determine the cause of the fire, which required four fire engines and 14 firefighters to extinguish.

Miano said he is less concerned about the cause and more anxious to be able to return and rebuild.

“Hopefully, we’ll be back in there soon,” he said. “This was galvanized by the community, and it’s about the community. It was the best place to paint, and it will be again.”

Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].

How to Help
The Southern Atelier is accepting donations of all kinds to help rebuild. The studio can use items such as paintbrushes, canvases, curtains and other supplies as well as monetary donations. To make a donation to the Southern Atelier, visit its Web site,

Sfumato: From the Smoke
WHAT: An exposition of art recovered from The Southern Atelier fire and silent auction.
WHEN: Nov. 10-14
WHERE: M Gallery of Fine Art, 16 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota
CONTACT: 954-8774

Related Stories