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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 8 years ago

Lecture series offers engaging opportunities

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

When Carl Denney and Winnie Downes retired in 1996, their goal was to find a home in Sarasota with a view of the bay. Why Sarasota? Because as Downes, a longtime Connecticut resident, says, “We wanted a place with the kind of culture we enjoyed in New York City.”

In New York, Downes, 74, was the former head of sales and marketing for a corporate management-consulting firm, and Denney, 75, was a sales-and-marketing manager for a jewelry company. They were involved in the arts — Denney as an actor and Downes as the co-founder of the National Assembly of Community Arts Agencies.

They weren’t sure if they were ready to move into a retirement community until they were invited to a lecture last year at Plymouth Harbor hosted by the Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning (SILL).

Seated in Plymouth Harbor’s 105-seat theater, Denney and Downes watched a live simulcast of the organization’s global-issues lecture series. Held every Thursday morning through March, at the Players Theatre, the global issues series is SILL’s most popular program.

“People were having conversations that were so elevated,” Downes said. “There was a renewed knowledge of what was going on in the world, as opposed to conversations about how our hips were feeling. The lectures were what sealed the deal.”

SILL, now in its 39th season, began as a series of neighborhood education courses offered at Plymouth Harbor. Founded in 1972 by retired college professor Dr. Evelyn Duvall, SILL’s early discussion topics were rooted in issues relevant to retirees: health advice, investment strategies and lifestyle changes. However, as the program grew to include world politics and major domestic concerns, it outgrew the community’s small auditorium.

For 20 years scientists, economic and political advisers, analysts and authors bounced between Sarasota venues. In the early 1990s, Sarasota lectures were held in the South Gate Plaza Theater and later the Gulf Gate Theater. In 2001, SILL moved into the Players Theatre, where it presents 36 lectures from Jan. 5 to March 25.

The organization now presents speakers in Venice and Bradenton and sells about 25,000 tickets a year.
In 2009, faced with an aging population and limited theater space, SILL decided to return to its roots by offering 12, live simulcasts of its Global Issues III lecture in the media rooms of Plymouth Harbor and the Sarasota Bay Club.

The simulcasts are so popular that other retirement communities are asking to be added to the network.
“They’re looking for ways to enrich the lives of their residents,” says Chet Thompson, SILL’s board president. “Our target audience tends to be people at retirement age and beyond, so it’s only natural for us to try and follow those people who have demonstrated over the years that they like our program.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].

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