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The Longboat Key Center for the Art's courtyard as it looks today. File photo.
Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 5 years ago

Longboat Key Arts Center journeys ahead

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

This is creativity in a nutshell, according to Jane Buckman, executive director of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, a Division of Ringling College of Art and Design:

“Creativity,” she says, “is about looking at something differently.”

Buckman cites the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study to illustrate the importance of creativity.

In that survey, more than half of the 1,500 CEOs surveyed from 60 countries and 33 industries selected creativity as the most important factor for future success. They ranked it higher in importance than rigor, management discipline, integrity and vision in navigating an increasingly complex world.

Creativity will also be crucial to the Arts Center’s future success.

Last month, Ringling College began hosting 17 working-sector conversations at the Arts Center as the next step in “Florida’s Imagination Conversation.”

The effort is part of a collaboration with the Lincoln Center Institute launched last year to explore ways to infuse imagination, creativity and innovation in today’s business environment to shape the future of Florida. Specifically, it aims to make the Sarasota-Manatee area a center for creativity.

Longboat Key Vice Mayor David Brenner, who is part of the Arts Center’s newly formed Advisory Council and has attended several of the business-sector discussions, described the potential for the concepts that Ringling is developing.

“Much in the way that Silicon Valley is known for its high-tech stuff, why couldn’t we be a Silicon Valley of the West Coast of Florida that has creativity built in?” Brenner asked.

The Arts Center is now serving as the beta site for Ringling’s Applied Center for Creativity & Innovation, with the goal of bringing CEOs and their teams to the facility for three-to-five-day workshops with the goal of accessing creativity from themselves.

If successful, it won’t just mark the fulfillment of a creative vision.

Since its merger with Ringling College in April 2007, the Arts Center has yet to break even. It has continued to offer many of the programs residents treasure, such as the annual member art show, workshops, master classes and exhibits.

But those programs don’t generate enough revenue to keep the Arts Center running.

That’s why the Arts Center’s future will also require those who came to know and love it over the past 60 years to embrace creativity — and look at the Arts Center differently.

The Longboat Key Art Center came to fruition through the creativity of a group of Longbeach Village residents.

In April 1951, Village residents George and Grace Yerkes, Gordon and Lora Whitney, and the recently widowed Allis Ferguson took a freighter trip to New Orleans, during which Grace Yerkes proposed an arts center.

She had a well-planned vision, according to Whitney’s memoir, and asked the Whitneys and Ferguson if they would each donate a small triangle of their land toward the vision.

They agreed, although estate issues complicated the donation of the Ferguson half of the land, causing Gordon Whitney to buy that portion and donate it, while Allis Ferguson found other ways to contribute. Many members of the community found ways to donate their talents.

Sarasota architect Warner Kannenberg, who designed most of the homes in Bayou Hammock, immediately agreed to lend his architectural services.

Ruskin Williams, the artist who would draw the town’s seal three years later upon its incorporation, drew the Arts Center’s seal.

Sarasota attorney John Pinkerton wrote the charter.

Resident Gene Schuneman started a fundraising campaign the following April called “What is the Longboat Key Art Center?”

The community pitched in with construction of the building, with some residents bringing beer or soft drinks to workers, even if they weren’t directly helping with construction.

By Nov. 14, 1952, the 14 people who had been most involved with the Arts Center met, adopted its bylaws and determined the programming for its first season, which would begin in January 1953.

And, less than a month later, Dec. 2, 1952, the Arts Center was officially open. The Arts Center celebrated with a gala Dec. 6 and Dec. 7, at which colorful artwork by local artists lined the walls. Classes and exhibits opened the following January, although studios weren’t completed for another 10 months.

It was the beginning of 55 years in which the Arts Center would function as an independent, community institution, offering classes, workshops and exhibits that were largely attended by local residents. Its facility also served as a gathering place for the local community.

It had a few changes.

In 1998, it changed its name to the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.

And in the early 2000s, the Arts Center began to look ahead to its future. It submitted a site plan that proposed various improvements over a four-year period, culminating in the construction of a new building.
But finances were always a key issue for the Arts Center.

In February 2007, the boards of the Arts Center and the Ringling College announced they were considering a merger. The proposed partnership would give the Arts Center more financial stability, along with more access to class offerings and exposure, while giving the Ringling College exposure on Longboat Key, along with a thriving art center.

“We are not in financial disaster,” said former Arts Center President Dan Idzik in February 2007, “but unless we do something drastic, we will continue to limp along and be frustrated that we can’t do more and do more efficiently.”

The merger was made official April 17, 2007.

Since then, Buckman estimates that Ringling has invested $1 million in the Arts Center. The revenue that community-centered events generate hasn’t been enough to make the facility self-sustaining.

“There’s not enough community to pay the bills,” Buckman said.

After receiving an extension of its site plan in 2009, Ringling sought another extension of the site plan last spring in addition to an amendment. The new plan it proposed would bring a new two-story building that could be used for flexible retreat space.

Many Village residents objected to the plans earlier this spring. They decried the loss of friendliness at the Arts Center and complained that it was no longer a community institution.

Ringling officials, in turn, reminded them that the Arts Center approached Ringling about a merger.
Ringling withdrew the site plan in April.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t submit future plans.

There’s no rush to submit new plans, according to Buckman, because the Arts Center is still in beta-testing mode.

“We still have more work to do before a site plan,” said Buckman, who couldn’t estimate when plans might be submitted. “We would want to be secure and have the right plan at the right price point.”

The Arts Center’s theme for its 2012-13 season is “The Journey is the Treasure.”

The focus isn’t so much about the journey it has taken over the past 60 years, but about looking to the journey ahead — even if the destination isn’t 100% clear.

That journey might require residents to think differently about the Arts Center that was an independent community institution for 55 years — the essence of creativity.

Ringling still wants to bring in programs for the local community at the Arts Center, Buckman said. But, survival requires an appeal to the population beyond the Village or even the Key.

She is optimistic about upcoming programs such as the “Highwaymen” exhibit.

The exhibit will likely draw visitors from throughout the west coast of Florida, according to Buckman.

“I think of it as not just for the Village but for the larger community,” she said. “It is a destination. You have to get in your car and drive over the bridge to get here. We want our programs to be of a quality equal to Ringling that makes it worth the drive.”

Looking back
April 1951 — Grace Yerkes suggested the idea of an Arts Center during a New Orleans freighter trip with her husband, George, Gordon and Lora Whitney and Allis Ferguson.

Dec. 2, 1952 — The Longboat Key Art Center opened its doors to the community. A two-day gala and show followed Dec. 6 and Dec. 7.

January 1953 — The Art Center’s first classes began.

November 1953 — The Art Center’s painting studio and ceramics studio were completed.

December 1998 — After being renamed the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, the Art Center met a fundraising deadline to receive a matching $500,000 grant bequeathed by the late Leslie and Margaret Weller.

2000 — The Arts Center received a cultural facilities grant from the Florida State Arts Council to continue expanding its campus. That year, the Arts Center launched a capital campaign and received support from many local foundations, businesses and donors.

2003 — The Longboat Key Town Commission approved a site plan for the renovation of the Arts Center that would culminate in a new one-story building.

April 2007 — The boards of Arts Center and the Ringling College voted to merge.

February 2009 — The Arts Center celebrated its grand opening after closing for nearly a year for renovations.

November 2011 — The Arts Center announced its “Imagination Conversations” collaboration with the Lincoln Center Institute.

February 2012 — The Arts Center launched the Arts Advisory Council to oversee and innovate the future advancement for the center.

April 2012 — The Arts Center voluntarily withdrew its site plan three years after having received an extension.

Dec. 2, 2012 — The Arts Center will celebrate its 60th birthday.

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