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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Mar. 26, 2015 3 years ago

A Canopy Too Far: An Architectural Impasse

Ringling College of Art & Design, Sarasota Museum of Art and the Sarasota Architectural Foundation agree to two day reprieve to seek compromise on historic canopies
by: Nick Reichert Arts & Entertainment Editor

With a director appointed and construction and renovations at full swing, the Saraosta Museum of Art and its parent institution the Ringling College of Art and Design are working as quickly as possible to convert the Historic Sarasota High School into a state of the art and operational museum and learning center by next year. Ironically, it seems that a large work of architectural art has created a firestorm in the community, and momentarily delayed part of the renovation.

This piece of art in question is the Paul Rudolph Walkway Canopies. Designed as a part of the current Sarasota High School building's main campus, the long, modern and angular white walkway was built to provide shelter for students walking between the newer high school and the southern side of the old building, which is currently being renovated and transformed into Sarasota Museum of Art/SMOA. One of the most influential American architects of the 20th century, Rudolph's designs include the canopy, the Sarasota High School and the original buildings of Riverview High School. Rudolph died in 1997 and served as the the chair of Yale University's architecture department and designed the university's art and architecture building, which houses the architecture school. Rudolph and his work were instrumental in creating the Sarasota School of Architecture style that defines the region's building aesthetic today.

Designed by renowned American architect Paul Rudolph, the canopy connects the architectural vision of the current Sarasota High School with the old building.

When Ringling College and SMOA notified the Sarasota Architectural Foundation that a portion of the canopy would be demolished to make room for construction crews and equipment for the southern and eastern portions of the building, the local organizaiton took to social media and the phones to rally support. "We grouped together, sent out the word on social media, letters were sent to Ringling College in order to delay the decision to demolish this important piece of architecture," says Janet Minker, chair of the SAF's board." And when a delay of demolition didn't seem likely, Minker and the passionate members of the SAF organized a protest rally for this afternoon.

Citing budget costs and previous planning, Larry R. Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art and Design, said that there was no other way to continue construction without removing portions of the Rudolph canopy immediately surrounding the historic high school. It seems though that SAF's concerns and worries had an impact and Ringling College and SMOA issued a joint statement hours before the group's scheduled protest offering a 48-hour reprieve to establish a compromise.

The statement says: "Ringling College of Art and Design President Dr. Larry Thompson met with Carl Abbot and leadership of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation this morning onsite at SMOA.  The decision was made by Dr. Thompson to delay canopy removal for two days. Architects and contractors for SMOA and SAF will meet during this period to explore potential solutions to determine whether the canopy can be preserved."

The Sarasota Museum of Art is currently under renovation and construction and was planning to demolish a portion of the canopy Wednesday.

Members of the RAF gathered outside of the construction site with the controversial canopy in question in the background. The olive branch of more time turned the protest's tone into something that could have been anger into one of advocacy and constructive problem solving. "The canopy is an historic structure and you need to have the community weigh in on this community treasure," says Minker. 

Dan Snyder, a board member of the Sarasota Architectural Fondation, added a positive note saying, "I think we've made some real progress here. With these organizations working together we can solve this. We have two goals: one is to save the canopies and two is to not hinder the renovation or raise the cost of construction."

With the three organizations (Ringlign College, SMOA and SAF) on the clock, the said portion of the canopy's fate will be decided in the next two days. 

Nick Reichert writes about Sarasota fine arts, including theater, dance, opera, music and visual art. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2013. Follow @TheNickReichert on Twitter for regular updates.

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