The new space opened at the Crossings Mall on July 17.
There is a long history of artistic talent in Sarasota. Renowned painters and artists such as Shirley Clement, Charles Ray McCurry, Hilton Leech and many others honed their talents while exploring the many beauties of the area throughout the 20th century.
The Arts Advocates group has a long history, as well. The group formerly known as The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota has been in operation for 50 years, slowly accumulating a number of high end, singular art from many of these Florida artists.
Its members are art enthusiasts and artists in their own right, and nothing makes past president of the group Donna Maytham happier than seeing a new, rare piece added to their collection. By their count, the group has acquired 51 mid-century pieces in its searches.
Those pieces have been on display at a gallery at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for some time, but Maytham and her fellow members have decided a change in scenery is in order.
For the first time since its inception in 1969, Arts Advocates now has a space of its own. The organization has moved several of its arts pieces to its new gallery space highlighting mid-20th century works at the Crossings at Siesta Key.
The opening art exhibit has a collection of 19 painted works detailing Sarasota landscapes, detailed-figure drawings, abstract works, mixed-media projects from artists including Syd Solomon, Jerry Farsworth and Mary Sarg Murphy — all with their own connection and contributions to Sarasota. The gallery opened to the public on July 17.
“This is the only collection of works like this available to the public,” said Maytham, who serves as the gallery’s director. “All these paintings have a story to tell. …They’ve helped Sarasota become an epicenter of the arts.”
It’s been a busy two years of searching for a gallery location. While several spots were considered, Maytham said she and other members struggled to find the right fit.
Serendipity struck earlier this year when Maytham learned of the Players Centre for the Performing Arts moving into the Crossings mall. Arts Advocates members checked out the mall space in early March and signed for the location in early June. The gallery space will be paid for by Arts Advocates membership funds.
“It hints at a repurposing at the mall,” Maytham said. “Wouldn’t it be exciting if it became a center for nonprofits and art organizations?”
The new space is a well-lit, wide open space that Maytham thinks will let visitors see the art in a literal new light. Arts Advocates received an unexpected-but-appreciated bequest in 2018 that allowed staff to get its work appraised and then brought on professional curator Mark Ormond to organize a new collection for the Crossings space.
The gallery has a variety of paintings from over the years, from the “Descending Yellows” watercolor piece by Hilton Leach, the very first painting the arts group acquired to a series of circus-themed paintings that line one of the space’s walls.
One of the prize inclusions is John Corbino’s “Palette," a painting with its own twisting journey. The art piece was stolen from the organization during the early 1990s and recovered by a collector at an estate sale in 2019.
The opening was a welcome continuation of in-person gatherings for the group following a pivot to online meetings during the pandemic.
Arts Advocates has started hosting tours led by docents the first Wednesday of each month for $10. It’s Maytham’s hope that the space will be used for donor events and fundraisers going forward.
New art pieces are being added to the collection and Maytham says Ormond is always looking for future inclusions. Now that the hard work of establishing the gallery and getting it open is done, she feels the future of what it can be is full of possibilities.
“People will have the opportunity to learn a lot,” Maytham said. “Will the community appreciate the art? Are they interested in the history of the art? … In that sense, we’re charting new territory.”
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