Ringling College of Art and Design is having a growth spurt. What do its ambitious expansions mean for the future of the local institution?
There are many ways to measure success. Awards, rankings and recognition are the go-to symbols of validation. They go a long way, but they’re not everything.
For Ringling College of Art and Design President Larry Thompson, it’s the intangibles that are most important. His vision for Sarasota’s burgeoning art and design college lives in the abstract.
He doesn’t want to be first on lists. He wants to be first in mind.
“When a student, a parent, an art teacher or someone in the industry thinks of art and design, and who’s on the cutting edge, I want them to think Ringling College,” he says.
It’s not that the school is lacking in accolades. In the past two years, 36 Ringling graduates have worked on Oscar-winning films. Dozens more have worked on Academy Award-nominated projects.
Its film school, only in its eighth year, regularly ranks in the Hollywood Reporter’s annual list of the top 25 film schools in the country. That kind of success is practically unheard of for a program that young.
Through its partnership with Semkhor Productions, Ringling has hosted a string of celebrity visits. The more than 30 actors, directors and other industry professionals have praised — and often worked alongside — the school’s students.
The local arts college, near the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and U.S. 41, is making a name for itself on a national — even global level. Now, this momentum is starting to take physical shape as the college expands its local footprint through several ongoing or recently completed construction projects: The Alfred R. Goldstein Library; the Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center; the Ringling College Soundstage and Post-Production Complex and the Sarasota Museum of Art community and cultural campus.
Thompson says this growth is the culmination of years of work — a process that began, albeit quietly, in 2006.
It was around this time that Thompson saw an opportunity. Deciding the curriculum was too narrow, he spent the next two years doubling the number of available majors from six to 12 — including the highly successful film program. Rather than simply attract more students, he wanted to offer them better programs. It was a way to stimulate growth and maintain high standards.
Thompson’s overall approach is based on word-of-mouth. He likes to invest in the quality of programs and technology and let the results — and the students’ work — speak for itself.
By all measures, the approach is working. Admission has steadily grown. Last year, Ringling saw its largest freshman class; applications are up 20% this year; and international students now make up 20% of the approximately 1,400 enrolled students — compared to just 6% in 2006.
Looking 10 years ahead, Thompson says enrollment could grow as large as 2,000 undergraduates, with another 200 or so in a potential graduate program. And he hopes to continue diversifying the curriculum, exploring things like virtual-reality based majors.
The current ambitious construction continues that approach, investing in quality arts education. With the school in full-on growth mode, it’s one step closer to fulfilling Thompson’s vision of being first in mind.
“We’re among the top art and design colleges in the country,” he says. “I’m not satisfied with that. I want to become the preeminent one worldwide. I think we’re on a fast track to get there.”
Sarasota Museum Of Art Campus and Lifelong Learning
Driving on U.S. 41, it’s hard to miss. The historic Sarasota High School building has been under renovation since 2014, as it’s being transformed into the Sarasota Museum of Art and community cultural campus.
Construction paused last year, as the college added 20,000 square feet of leased space to the $22 million project, which will be a contemporary art museum, as well as home to continuing education programs and other community collaborations.
With the school system no longer planning to use the immediately adjacent property, Ringling was able to lease it for additional gallery space. Anne-Marie Russell, the museum’s director, says the opportunity allowed them to reimagine the project.
“It radically improved the project,” she says. “We more than doubled our exhibition square footage.”
In fall 2016, Sarasota Museum Of Art opened The Works in the 1959 Lundy Gallery Furniture Building to the north of high school as a temporary pop-up space. This month, it will launch a series of education programming in partnership with Mote Marine and the Hermitage Artist Retreat.
The project is slated to resume the final stages of its construction early this summer.
“To be the preeminent art and design college, we should have a world-class contemporary museum,” says Thompson. “That’s what this will be. It’s bringing in world-class exhibitions for the community and students to see. And we’re big believers in learning for a lifetime.”
Ringling College Soundstage and Post-Production Complex
Since forming, Ringling’s film program has become nationally recognized. Now, the school invests further in the program with the 30,000-square-foot soundstage and post-production complex, where students and professionals can create film projects using Hollywood-quality resources. David Shapiro, co-founder of Semkhor Productions, collaborated with the college to fund the soundstages.
“This is one of the few facilities in the country that integrates post-production,” he says. “You can do every aspect of creation in one place — color correction, sound engineering, live music, mixing.”
The $7 million complex spans about a city block and features two larger, 8,000-square-foot stages and three smaller, 2,500-square-foot ones. The 5,000 square feet of post-production resources includes editing suites, dubbing bays, offices, a private screening room and a Foley sound-effects stage.
Designed with insight from industry professionals like Roman Coppola, it will see professionals use the facilities alongside the students, offering real-world experience.
The soundstage is set to open at the end of March, with the rest of the facility to follow this summer.
Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center
When the Selby Gallery closed its doors in December 2015, it marked the end of an era. The iconic campus gallery had served as an artistic hub for students and faculty for more than 30 years.
Made possible by a donation from Richard and Barbara Basch, the 3,000-square-foot gallery was demolished to make way for the Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center — a 38,000-square-foot, $10 million facility that will include a gallery, classrooms and studios for woodworking, hot and cold glass shops, ceramics, printmaking, photography and digital fabrication.
The visual arts center, whose modern architecture features two buildings joined together with a small footbridge, is scheduled to celebrate with a grand opening celebration this Friday at the campus, with an official opening to follow later this spring.
“Right next to each other, in one facility, students will have access to glass shops, a major wood shop, digital fabrication, 3-D printing, printmaking and photography,” says Thompson. “Part of our curriculum is that students be artists first and foremost. Technology is no different than a paintbrush or a piece of charcoal; it’s only a tool for creating. It’s about what’s in your head, not what a computer can do.”
*Editor's Note: Construction materials caught fire at this location Tuesday, March 7. There were no injuries, and emergency crews extinguished the fire within 30 minutes. Click here to read more.
Alfred R. Goldstein Library
If any of the projects is most representative of the college’s vision for the future, it’s the Alfred R. Goldstein Library. The first of Ringling’s projects, which opened to the public Jan. 28, the $20 million, 46,000-square-foot facility is home to more than 75,000 books and periodicals. And thanks to speedy fundraising efforts, it was completed a year ahead of schedule.
But as Thompson puts it, this isn’t your grandfather’s library. With a sleek, contemporary design and a focus on the future, the three-story facility will be a cutting-edge student hub for years to come.
“We’ve designed this to adapt and grow with future technologies,” he says. “This was born out of our mindset that the future of libraries needs to be different. It houses books on the third floor, but the first two are like a high-tech, intellectual student union.”
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