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Sarasota Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014 7 years ago

Letters to the Editor


+ Bensel responds to Van Wezel editorial
Dear Editor:
Thank you for the kind compliment regarding the success of the Van Wezel, but I need to take issue with the inaccuracies of your editorial.  

The Van Wezel has for years had a policy of allowing 50% of weekend dates for rentals by local organizations and 50% for the Van Wezel’s shows, which by the way is also a local cultural organization whose mission is to bring the best and most diverse in national and international shows to the region. That mission was established way before I got here. 

Second, our mission is to provide a home to local organizations that wish to present their shows here.
And third, it is to have strong educational and community outreach programs.

For the record, Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Ballet only perform their shows here on the weekends, while the Van Wezel presents shows Monday through Sunday. Yet your paper states about our policy “the idea is simple: put butts in seats for a price. And do it on days people are most likely to attend — the weekends.”  

The majority of our shows are not on weekends, while all of the ballet and orchestra’s shows are. Don’t facts matter?

The Van Wezel and Sarasota Orchestra are true partners in every way, and to try to set us against each other is childish. We support each other. 

As to the Sarasota Ballet, I presented them at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall way before I came to Sarasota. When Sarasota Ballet did not book any dates last year for “Nutcracker,” I called to find out why. I moved four of our shows that were already contracted just so it could perform here. The ballet sent me flowers as a thank you. 

I could give you several other similar instances such as that. 

In addition to Sarasota Ballet and Sarasota Orchestra, we have many other local organizations that perform here. Many of these present their shows on weekdays.

The Van Wezel last year operated on 94.27% earned income and 4.12% unearned income and 1.6% sponsorship income. This is unheard of in the industry. 

One startling omission was your lack of interest in diversity. You state this is a public hall, yet there is no concern about the hundreds of thousands of people who attend Broadway, comedy, international dance and orchestra, urban attractions, magic, children’s programming, pop music, folk music, country music, bluegrass and on and on. Apparently, those people do not matter to you, but to me they do as diversity is key. 

You have no idea how hard we struggle to present shows for younger audiences, but as hard as it is, I won’t give up trying. You dismiss these people by saying simply they can go somewhere else. That is also ridiculous. This is a performing arts hall, and we cater to all sorts of people. I have operated many performing arts halls, and the Van Wezel’s model is much fairer in opening up rental dates than others by far.

We also have a diverse and extensive education program that includes programming for more than 20,000 children who receive free busing to our shows, teacher workshops, Family Night at the Theatre, Friday Fest, Military Access, Total Access, Senior Access, master classes and on and on. 

This is what performing arts halls do: They present a blend of the arts and entertainment. 

When I came here, all I heard was there should be no city subsidy. Now there is not one, and that is an issue. We are an arts institution serving our purpose just like all the others in town that make this such a vibrant city.

The Sarasota Orchestra and Van Wezel are looking at our needs studies, and I can guarantee you we will do it in friendship and cooperation and will look at it based on realities and facts. 

I am passionate about all the arts and about education, and this is why all of our staffs work so hard and well together.

Mary Bensel
Executive Director
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall


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