In June, Brian Hersh became the new CEO of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. Talk about a perfect match. Hersh has spent more than 20 years in the field of nonprofit arts administration, including posts at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the Asolo Repertory Theatre. He’s also well known in the community for advancing arts education initiatives. The Arts Alliance has an equally stellar track record using the power of the arts to make Sarasota County a great place to live, work and play. Hersh plans to build on that track record with the power of storytelling. In the following conversation, he shared the story he wants to tell.
What inspired you to accept the position of the Alliance’s CEO?
I love Sarasota County, and I love the arts. Advocating for the arts, supporting working artists and providing access to arts education — these values are important to me and they’re equally important to the Alliance. I knew that I had the background, skill set and passion to advance its mission and make an impact. It was a fantastic opportunity, and I had to say “yes.”
How would you define the local arts community?
There’s no simple definition. But for Sarasota County, the local arts community has defined our identity for over 100 years. It’s an intricate tapestry of arts and cultural organizations and individual artists. The Alliance serves as an advocate, a resource and, really, the backbone for our arts community. We are constantly in touch with arts and cultural organizations, seeking to provide resources and support. We are a place for individual artists to gain exposure and build their businesses. We’re also working closely with the Economic Development Corporation, the various chambers, and Visit Sarasota County to ensure crucial stakeholders are a part of the picture. Together, we weave Sarasota County and Florida’s Cultural Coast into the vibrant creative community it is today.
Why does serving the local arts community matter?
What sets Sarasota County apart is our identity as Florida’s Cultural Coast. Without the arts, we’re just another beach town. The arts drive our economy; they also impact who we are and how we live. The arts bring a community together.
In “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Richard Florida showed how arts can impact a community’s economy.
And I agree with him. Economically, our creative sector punches above its weight in Sarasota County. Its economic impact is comparable to what you’d find in larger cities, like Austin or Seattle. It results in a better quality of life for everyone. Arts and cultural organizations are the most highly visible evidence of these positive contributions. But we know that the work they do depends on creative individuals — and we support them as well. Artists, actors and others have to pay the rent and keep the lights on. Community issues like affordable housing and living wages are also arts issues, which the Alliance can’t ignore.
As the Alliance’s new CEO, what’s the hardest task ahead for you?
Going from ideation to action. I’m very comfortable brainstorming big ideas. Bringing them into fruition is the hard part. At the end of the day, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. The Alliance was established over 35 years ago and, with that, comes a legacy we want to honor and uphold — but we also see an opportunity to do things differently and bring the organization into the future.
What’s the story?
Sarasota County is Florida’s premiere arts and cultural destination. Our preeminent status depends on partnerships. Sarasota County’s cultural community is a massive collaboration — a collective enterprise. We’re all in this together. Once we understand that, we can work together and shine. That’s the story we’re telling. The Alliance is carrying that message forward. But we still need to amplify that story and reach new audiences. We need to reach people where they are and give them multiple points of easy access to the arts.
A quote from “Alice in Wonderland” comes to mind: “It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.”
Yes, it does. The Alliance plans to stay in the race. In the immediate future, we’ll turn up the volume on our social media platforms, and build a new website with original content and a more dynamic calendar. The combined result will provide the community with easy access to information about what’s happening in arts and culture. We’ll also give a great voice to artists and arts organizations. After all, we are their Alliance.