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Visual Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 2 years ago

Rosemary Square mural illustrate, exemplify district's artistic character

5-panel group like a 'welcome' sign and an open invitation for selfies
by: Klint Lowry Arts + Entertainment Editor

If an artistic image can make a statement, what do you call it when you have five independent images side by side, existing together as a single display — a chorus?

A series of five murals, painted over five months, was completed just in time for the new year. It doesn’t need a name; it defines its own identity as the Rosemary District’s newest landmark.

The murals, each depicting a different discipline: contemporary dance, ballet, opera, theater, and architecture and design, now look out over a parking lot in the heart of the Rosemary District.

“My mantra for this entire project has been a simple equation: ‘Walls plus artists equals amazing,’” says Allison Ficken, who heads up the Art Impact Initiative, which teamed up with the Rosemary Square ownership group to create the mural set, which graces the southern wall of the Rosemary Square’s largest building.

Ficken stands at one end of the murals, along with Kathryn Parks of the Rosemary Square group, and as the two are preparing to explain the motivations behind the murals, a young lady rushes in front of one of the murals and poses. The man she’s with obliges and snaps her picture and they continue on their way.

The base of Bianca Burrows' opera mural invites viewers to step into the spotlight. (Klint Lowry)

It’s the perfect lead-in. That’s exactly how they want people to react when they first see the murals, Ficken and Parks say, with an Instagram moment, and that’s the image of the Rosemary District they want to take with them.

They explain further, the murals are part of a much larger effort to preserve and accentuate the district’s identity.

Ever since 2014, when the city approved regulations that allowed for higher residential density for the district, just north of downtown, Rosemary has seen a development boom, with something in the neighborhood of 1,500 residential units going up. It’s been exciting, Ficken and Parks say, but it’s come with concern that the district retain its identity as a creative culture corridor, with its numerous architectural, design and artists studios.

Using art seemed a natural way for the district to retain its distinct identity, and the district already had a history of wall murals. Ficken, as a member of The Rosemary District Association, created an initiative called Art Up, to serve as a platform in creating community art projects, murals among them.

Ficken says she was thrilled when Parks contacted her about organizing a large-scale mural for Rosemary Square. Completed about two years ago, Rosemary Square could be seen as part of the recent building boom, but Parks explains it was always intended to fit in with the spirit of the Rosemary District.

“One of our goals was to bring arts to the Boulevard of the Arts,” Parks says. Rosemary Square includes temporary housing for the Sarasota Opera, as well as  studios for Sarasota Contemporary Dance, Sarasota Ballet’s school, the Arnold Simonsen Players Studio and Solstice Planning and Architecture.

The murals represent the five disciplines that reside in the complex. Ficken says the southern wall of the housing building provided a perfect “canvas” for a mural series. She and Parks seem to relive the excitement when they describe how all the pieces came together as they planned the project. They quickly settled on the subjects. The only style requirement, Ficken says, “was just for the exhibit to be happy and benefiting to the setting and to the community.”

Pamela Olin plays within the composition of her Mondrian-inspired abstract mural. (Courtesy photo)

The first artist they contacted was muralist Truman Adams, whom Ficken had met at the Sarasota Chalk Festival. He was so excited, he wanted to do all five murals, Ficken says, but they had decided from the beginning it would be more interesting to have multiple artists involved.

It was a smart decision, because the five murals are as disparate as can be, which adds to their visual impact as a group. That is not by chance. Each artist submitted a concept rendering of what they envisioned, and a great deal of thought went into how to place the murals in relation to one another. 

Adams did get two of the murals, and they as different as any two in the group. For ballet, Parks says he told her the boldly colorful composition of swirling dancers he created is based on pietersite stone. By contrast, his contemporary dance mural is exceedingly spare, but it's a remarkable example of Adams' skill at creating large-scale, 3D illusion.

Moving down the line, Bianca Burrows does a playful homage to opera, with open arms and opera glasses and a passing nod to the ‘“flower duet” from “Lakmé.” While all the murals are designed to invite photo ops, this one literally invites the visitor to stand in the spotlight.

Careth Christine also invites the viewer with the theater mural, but it’s into an organic fantasy that suggests the magic of the stage.

Careth Christine's magically theatrical mural provides an idyllic backdrop for Shane, Lumina and Alya Gay. (Courtesy photo)

Finally, Pamela Olin had an extra challenge, Ficken points out. Someone had to incorporate an air conditioning unit into their mural, and they decided Olin had the best chance with her mural saluting architecture and design. And so she does with her playful, Mondrian-inspired abstract that not only is a nod to those disciplines, but to Florida, as well.

With these five, there are now 15 murals scattered throughout the Rosemary District. With these being in a position that they he first thing people see, plus the fact they they were designed to invite photo ops, the the hope is that visitors will be more attuned to spot the other murals as they roam the district.

Because the murals were completed one at a time, there have been no unveilings or dedications so far. Parks and Ficken say they are working on having some sort of ceremony early in the year. To keep up with when that might be, or to learn more about the murals, visit

The row of five murals representing five disciplines line up along the southern-facing wall at Rosemary Square. (Klint Lowry)


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