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Hermitage, Venice Theatre begin road to recovery

The Hermitage Artist Retreat and Venice Theatre suffered damage from Hurricane Ian that will require extensive renovation.

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  • | 12:12 p.m. October 4, 2022
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Performing Art
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The damage is profound, but it isn’t irreparable.

Two local arts organizations, the Venice Theatre and Hermitage Artist Retreat, were hit hard by Hurricane Ian and will face an extensive path to renovating their facilities.

Murray Chase, the producing executive director of Venice Theatre, wants people to know that renovations will cost upwards of $3 million, but that the project isn’t hopeless.

“Sometimes, they can look a lot worse than they are. But they're really bad,” says Chase of photos showing the theater’s damage. “At first glance, you think, ‘Oh, the theater is totally destroyed.’

"It's not. It suffered catastrophic damage, but it can be fixed.”

Chase says that the Venice Theatre will be without its main stage, the Jervey Theatre, for at least a year and probably more. The second performance space — the Pinkerton Theatre — will probably need two or three months before it’s ready to return to service.

“We’ve got our own crews on-site working as fast as we can,” says Chase. “The water damage alone and the air quality, getting all that mold and everything else out is probably a quarter of a million dollars just for that.”

Chase says that the theater will need to make renovations not just to repair leaks and storm damage but also to restore electrical service to the Pinkerton Theatre.

And the main stage? Well, the Jervey Theatre needs a little bit of everything.

“The structure couldn’t withstand the wind and collapsed,” says Chase. “With that came the supports for the flyloft (the area above the stage that houses all the rigging). All the siding for the flyloft followed as soon as the air got inside the auditorium.

"That peeled off and flew all around downtown. Some of it flew onto the roof on the other side of our building, which then caused some roof damage and some water into that."

Chase says there is one silver lining; the theater has a third building that it was about to renovate into an education space. For now, that project is on hold.

The third building will serve as a performance space until the Pinkerton Theatre is up and running again.

It’s a similar story out on Manasota Key, where the Hermitage is beginning its own recovery.

The lanai at the Hermitage's office building was totally destroyed, and much of the damage occurred as a result of the wind as opposed to water. (Photo courtesy of Andy Sandberg)
The lanai at the Hermitage's office building was totally destroyed, and much of the damage occurred as a result of the wind as opposed to water. (Photo courtesy of Andy Sandberg)

Andy Sandberg, artistic director and CEO of the Hermitage, said all of his employees emerged unscathed but the organization will take some time to get back to its operations.

“The good news is the campus was not washed away,” he says. “We’re looking at a matter of repairs, not rebuilding. I don’t want to overplay the damage or undermine the suffering of others; there’s a lot of work to do. Our goal is to get back to operational in a few weeks.”

Sandberg says the Hermitage was fortunate for two reasons; one, it had two days of advance notice that the storm would hit and enlisted several workers in boarding up buildings.

And two, despite being right near the hurricane’s landfall, it did not experience any storm surge.

Now, though, days later, Manasota Key is still without power and water.

“It's not the most accessible place, and we are dependent on being able to get contractors and landscapers down there,” he says. “We're doing everything we can and the staffs gone down against advisement to try to do at least triage and cleaning and drying things out so we're not faced with worse damage by letting it sit unattended.”

The storm will not cause much upheaval in the Hermitage’s schedule of events.

Sandberg says he had to cancel two weeks of the residency program, and he switched an event later this month to virtual instead of in person. But by November, all events should be a full go.

Sandberg thanked the Gulf Coast Community Foundation for helping out with generators and power tools, and he says the Hermitage Artist Retreat campus will need “significant and expensive” repairs both immediately and in the long term to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“We have artists and supporters reaching out from all over the world,” he says. “We’re grateful to say that there's work ahead, but it could have been worse.

"There were a lot of us worried that the entire campus could be washed away. We are historic buildings right on a beachfront that had the storm gone even a few miles differently, it could have been a lot worse."


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