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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 9 months ago

Sarasota chosen as next host of traveling photography exhibit 'The Fence'

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United Photo Industries announced Feb. 22 that Nathan Benderson Park will be a regional host site for the Brooklyn-based exhibit in fall of 2018.
by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment

These days, photography plays a vital role in our everyday lives.

Whether you’re attempting to get the perfect photo of your German shepherd for the holiday card or you’re taking an embarrassing Snapchat of your best friend singing karaoke, photography is one of the most common ways to preserve memories. Most of us carry camera phones around daily, after all.

Select amateurs and professional photographers are celebrated for their captured moments in “The Fence,” a large-scale traveling photography exhibit of works printed on vinyl mesh and installed outdoors in seven cities — and soon an eighth.

The organization behind the free exhibit, United Photo Industries, announced Feb. 22 that Sarasota will be a regional host city this fall for “The Fence.” Nathan Benderson Park will host the exhibit.

“Sarasota is a town known for the arts,” promoter Barbara Strauss says. “We have the ballet, we have the symphony — we have so many tentacles that make this an artistic community, and I think this brings something new and fresh and different to a town that already loves the arts.”

Strauss first heard of “The Fence” about a year ago from local photographer Ann McGough, who was inspired after viewing the exhibit in its founding city of Brooklyn, N.Y. McGough decided Sarasota needed to host the exhibit, so she got the ball rolling but later needed to step aside. It was then that Strauss decided to take over the project of making Sarasota the eighth host city of “The Fence.”

The local promoter is nothing if not persistent, she says, so even though the team at United Photo Industries started telling her it wasn’t possible to make it happen in 2018, she wouldn’t give up.

In mid-February, Strauss gained the support of Siesta Key native and art lover Laura Feder, who agreed to be a sponsor of the exhibit. When several companies followed suit and Nathan Benderson Park and Suncoast Aquatics Nature Center Associates agreed to host, she finally gained the backing she needed to make it happen.

SANCA President and CEO Stephen Rodriguez says “The Fence” is a great way to start integrating arts into the park’s offerings because, though he says SANCA has had great success in making the park a sports and event destination, the arts is an area for improvement.

“That’s something that we have placed in our strategic plan to get more involved in and have more offerings,” Rodriguez says. “This makes us more well-rounded, and now we’re not just a rowing facility or park but a venue for an art exhibit.”

The exhibit is based on the works of 40 artists who are chosen out of thousands of submissions from all over the world. The photo submissions are broken into seven subject categories — creatures, food, home, nature, people, play and streets.

“The Fence” and United Photo Industries co-founder Sam Barzilay says the goal is to bring compelling photographic narratives to as many people around the country as possible. Sarasota, he says, was an ideal location not only for its excellent outdoor exhibit weather but its tourist-destination status and engaged audience of art enthusiasts.

“It was a question of is this the right partner,” he says. “We’ve never thought about whether people are going to go there (a host city) for ‘The Fence,’ it’s if people are already going there.”

Another reason Sarasota was able to secure a spot as a host city is because of the support of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, which is serving as an organizational and promotional partner for the exhibit.

Jim Shirley, executive director of the alliance, says the organization’s role is to help Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources execute and get the word out about the exhibit.

“Being in the realm of photography adds a dimension of interest for people that aren’t just artists,” Shirley says of the exhibit. “I think it’ll make it a very interesting project for a broad spectrum of people.”

Strauss says the project couldn’t happen without the alliance and sponsors like Mattison’s and Feder, but her perseverance was also a key factor.

“This town stepped up to the plate and rallied,” she says. “If I put my mind to something, everyone knows they might as well say yes or I’ll nag them until I get what I want.”

Within about nine days of Strauss presenting the idea to SANCA, Rodriguez says his team secured the necessary financial resources to make it happen.

Barzilay says the “The Fence” is unlike any other photo exhibit because it’s public art with the ability to enrich someone’s day.

“I believe that if a photograph gets a reaction out of you, good or bad, it’s done its job,” he says. “And this really is fostering community and conversation.”

Rodriguez notes that the exhibit is personal because local photographers have a chance to showcase their art.

“It can connect to the community, it’s not just a display,” he says. “It’s open to professionals and amateurs, and we could have a tie to home with some photographers in the area — that would be great.”

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