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The Ringling bests personal attendance record

Over 400,000 visitors went to the arts and culture institution during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

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  • | 4:41 p.m. July 14, 2015
The Ringling's attendance has jumped more than 30% since 2011
The Ringling's attendance has jumped more than 30% since 2011
  • Arts + Culture
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The Ringling, the name for the multi-faceted arts and culture campus that includes the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Historic Asolo Theater, a circus museum, bay-front gardens, an education center and the Ca' D'zan mansion, is the bedrock of the Sarasota arts community. On the site of circus magnate John Ringling's estate (Ca' D'zan is the Venetian dialect of Italian meaning "House of John"), Ringling invested in Sarasota by leaving his collection of European art accrued over a lifetime in the museum that now bears his and his wife's name. And now 84 years later, Ringling's love of art still serves as the backbone to contemporary Sarasota's steep and pedigreed arts and culture industry.

This past fiscal year between July 2014 and July 2015 The Ringling attracted approximately 400,209 visitors during that year. That total beats the institution's previous attendance record of 384,323 visitors recorded during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. This record-setting attendance comes after a rapid 33% climb in attendance since 2011. 

"It's been a nice period of expansion these last four years," says Steven High, executive director of The Ringling. "A lot of this is because of the increased tourism due to the growing economy but even before the collapse, our attendance wasn't anywhere near these numbers."

According to High, The Ringling's visiting body is comprised of 65% from different states, 25% local visitors from Sarasota and Manatee Counties, and 10% visiting from international countries. He credits The Ringling's continued attendance growth to its engaging and constantly rotating programming going on throughout the institution's numerous buildings, especially The Ringling's dedication to presenting contemporary art and performance offerings.

This last fiscal year saw popular exhibits such as "Re:Purposed," an exhibit of different artists that employ found or cast-off materials in their work, "Seeing the Unseen," which featured contemporary video and photography from Chinese artists and a visiting performance by Beijing-based artist Li Wei, and continuing programming of performance art and live entertainment with the Ringling International Arts Festival (which garnered 2.5 times the box office revenue from the previous year) and the "New Stages" programming that brings in talented musicians, artists and companies to the Historic Asolo Theater throughout the season. 

Chinese artist Li Wei performing in the Ringling's statue garden
Chinese artist Li Wei performing in the Ringling's statue garden

"Our focus on contemporary performance and the art of our time has been a really strong attendance driver to the museum," says High, "and it's gotten a local audience to the museum that previously had only been to the museum when they were in grade school. That's what we're trying to get across to the community. There's always something changing or happening at the museum."

This upcoming season will be a big one for The Ringling with the opening of the Center for Asian Art and its Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art. Scheduled to open in early 2016, the center will be a new focal point on The Ringling's campus. It's distinctive green exterior will be a beacon to visitors. In addition, this year's RIAF (Oct. 15 through 18) will feature performances by artists and companies exclusively from Asian countries to officially kick off The Ringling's season. 

Jill Sigman's
Jill Sigman's "Hut #10" was one of the featured works in The Ringling's popular "Re:Purposed" exhibit.

To keep the attendance building, High says that the museum will focus next on rebuilding and refurbishing one of the oldest structures in the institution: the historic circus museum. Located just behind Tibbals Learning Center, which houses the Howard Bros. Circus Model as well as the institution's circus archives and exhibitions, the historical circus building is one of the oldest buildings on the property and is in need of a remodel. 

"We're going to be launching in October 2016 a new interactive experience in the Tibbals Center that looks at the contemporary circus, and we'll be developing an exhibition and ultimately we'd like to see a new facility that can come in and replace the wagon room and the historic circus museum building," says High. "Those are old facilities that need to be brought up to speed. The circus is a part of Sarasota and we continue to thrive because of continued interest and evolution of the circus." 


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