- November 13, 2019
For years, Jeffery Kin made the most of theatrical spaces, milking them for every ounce of drama and pathos.
Now he’s using Sarasota’s arts community as a larger canvas, and he’s hoping to pull them all together as collaborators in building a weeklong arts festival.
Kin, who calls himself “a theater person with a farmer’s work ethic,” is thinking big, and he’s circling November 2024 as the debut for his still unnamed festival.
He’s been laying the groundwork for the past nine months, assembling a group of employees and building a board for the incorporation of Sarasota Rising, his production company.
Kin says he plans for his company to be a 501(c)(3) organization as of Oct. 1, and he’s going to spend the next 26 months moving mountains to give Sarasota its own Art Basel-type event.
“We want to drum up cultural tourism. It’s going to start local, then statewide, then the Southeast and then the nation,” he says. “In 10 years, we want this to be an international festival.
"We will want people to be able to say, ‘We’ve got to be in Sarasota at this time because we're going to see stuff that we would never be able to see anywhere else.’”
Kin, who spent 15 years with The Players Centre for Performing Arts, came to this mission organically.
He says he was happy in his old role as artistic director for The Players when Mark Kauffman of the Downtown Improvement District asked him to recruit a festival director.
Kin swished that idea in his mind and immediately recognized that he’d love that kind of opportunity to create a lasting institution. He’s embarked on what he calls an “arts nourishment," visiting festivals all over the country.
He went to Sun Fest in West Palm Beach and met with the organizers, where they gave him a behind-the-scenes tour and talked about their growth and development. He volunteered at the Columbus Arts Festival just to see how things get done on a granular level. He went to the Spoleto Festival USA in South Carolina and several other regional arts events, and he came away convinced that all the ingredients for success are already here.
Sarasota already has the vibrant arts scene; it just needs a coalescing force to pull them together.
“A festival brings a different vibe to a community. A festival really is a celebration of who you are,” he says.
“The meat of our festival is already here. The meat and potatoes are all the great organizations that we all know and love. Large and small. What we get to do as an organization is be the icing on the cake. We get to bring in a great band, we get to bring in a great dance concert, we get to bring in something unique.”
Kin doesn’t want to pull the arts groups under his umbrella; he wants everyone to share in the process, which can introduce difficulty in building consensus.
His first benefactor was the Downtown Improvement District, which gave him $100,000 in seed money.
And immediately, he had to disappoint them because they wanted the festival to be in August.
That’s just not feasible in Sarasota for a number of reasons including the heat. Some arts organizations are shuttered for the summer due to the lack of snowbird customers.
Kin shared a questionnaire with all of the local arts organizations through the Arts Alliance, and what came back as the best time to hold a festival would be October or November. That’s when theater and arts organizations are ramping back up here; they wouldn’t have to do anything beyond share the programming they’re preparing.
“Let’s say The Players has a musical happening in that time,” he says. “That’s great. That’s all you have to do. What I’m hoping to be able to do is to bring them more customers, to bring them more butts in seats.”
Kin wants the festival to cast the widest net possible.
He wants to include as many arts organizations as possible, from the ones with their own venues to the ones looking for a place to play.
He wants to collaborate amongst organizations to develop unique programming, and he wants to take over downtown streets for art fairs.
What might that look like?
Kin didn’t want to name specific organizations because none of them have committed to be a part of the festival yet, but he hopes to have a wide sampling of performing arts, and he wants to get the hotels and restaurants and museums involved to better cater to incoming tourists.
“We’re going to start small. It’s not going to be Spoleto overnight,” he says. “But what we really want to do is organize our arts groups so that if they have a space, they’re going to produce something great in the timeline of the festival.
“And that’s really all the Festival is. Just do what you do. Be brilliant, be excellent, create something wonderful in that timeframe.”
It’s a gigantic vision, and he said the community has been more than receptive.
Kin says he wasn’t sure how many organizations would reply to his questionnaire, but most of them did. They see potential for the festival and they want to be a part of it.
But there’s still a lot of work to do.
Kin says the Downtown Improvement District is currently weighing whether it can authorize another $100,000 in funding for his venture. He also said Sarasota Rising raised around $225,000 in its first year of existence, and he hopes to double that next year. By the time the festival is born, Kin expects it to cost about $1 million to operate.
How did he come up with those numbers? Kin hired a consultant named Vern Biatt, a certified Festival and Event Executive, to help him plot the event’s future, and he also said that philanthropist Ariane Dart of the Dart Family Foundation has been a great resource for him.
Now, he says, the festival has to grow into its own footprint.
“The timing is perfect,” he says. “The relationship is awesome because she knows how to get stuff done on a large scale and I know how to pull together an organization.
“We really are starting to build this together, knowing that Oct.1, the start of our second year, we’ll have a board. We’ll put them to work because there’s a lot of work to do in the next two years.”
They still have to name the festival. They have to organize which arts organizations are willing and able to participate, and they have to line up all the venues to do that.
For now, Kin is working out of his kitchen, and he’s traveling the country auditing festivals.
Just last week, he went to a Tennessee Williams Festival in St. Louis, and he’s prepping for an event in Orlando as we speak.
Kin meets once a month with a group he calls his “start-up” team.
They’ve put together a mission values statement, and they have a logo for Sarasota Rising, but they know the clock is ticking on the way to November 2024.
“We’re building something from scratch, which is exciting in itself,” he says. “We’re really creating a long term-organization that’s not going to just be a fly-by-night thing.