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Sarasota's Mara Gallery is on the move

The visual arts venue opens on South Palm Avenue in time for the First Friday Gallery Artwalk on Nov. 3.

Mara Torres González will host the grand opening of Mara Art Studio + Gallery on Friday, Nov. 3.
Mara Torres González will host the grand opening of Mara Art Studio + Gallery on Friday, Nov. 3.
Photo by Monica Roman Gagnier
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Artist and gallerist Mara Torres González liked her old space that she opened in Sarasota's Rosemary District in 2020, but there wasn't enough foot traffic in the up-and-coming area for her tastes. She's glad she moved to a block that is coming back to life as downtown's gallery row.

Torres González will officially open the new Mara Art Studio + Gallery on Friday, Nov. 3. The grand opening will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at 76 S. Palm Ave. Mara's a few doors down from 68 S. Palm Ave., where Deena and Casey King recently opened Define Art Gallery. 

Mara and Define are coming to Palm Avenue as longtime downtown art galleries exit downtown. In June, Dabbert Gallery closed after 18 years in business at 46 S. Palm Ave. while Uptown Arts Gallery shuttered after 43 years at 1367 Main St. Define has taken on some of the artists that used to show their work at Uptown.

Noted arts event planner Stephanie Grae recently on a Gaze & Graze trolley tour of art galleries: "Rising rents and redevelopment projects have forced some galleries in Sarasota to close their doors. But some galleries are moving and new ones are coming in. The arts scene in Sarasota is thriving."

The move of Mara seems to support that sentiment. A native of Puerto Rico, Torres González is a professionally trained artist, having begun lessons at the Art Students League in Old San Juan when she was just 3 years old. 

"As a young child, I was always putting stuff together using cardboard or plastic I found around the house, or painting and drawing," Torres González recalls. "My mom decided to sign me up for art lessons."

After graduating from high school, Torres González attended art school in San Juan. She came to Sarasota in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. The devastating storm ultimately killed nearly 3,000 people and knocked out the island's power grid.

Surviving the hurricane prompted Torres González to publish "209," a book featuring her mixed-media paintings "that tell the story of every Puerto Rican living on the island and every Puerto Rican of the diaspora watching from afar."

Because of the difficulty of earning a living in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Ricans left the U.S. territory (estimates range from 200,000 to a half-million residents) and built new lives for themselves on the mainland. 

Mara Torres González stands outside her gallery, Mara Art Studio + Gallery, in the Rosemary District in October 2022.
Photo by Spencer Fordin

Torres González is one of those people. A recent weekday morning found her busily preparing for the grand opening of her 1,200-square-foot space. She was in the middle of finalizing contracts to add two new artists to her roster: Christina Jensen Vicente, who spent 20 years as an executive at fashion company Chanel Inc., and metal sculptor Ralph Berger.

Including Jensen Vicente, Berger and herself, there will be 10 artists whose works will be shown at Mara Gallery. The others are wood sculptor David Erdman, painter Javier Suárez, painter Lori Childers, ceramicist Jack Shapiro, sculptor Pamela Olin, multimedia artist Ashley Rivers and abstract painter Midge Johnson.

Given the competition in Sarasota's visual arts scene, how does Mara Gallery aim to make a name for itself? Replies Torres González: "First of all, I want to stand out with an exclusive roster. Exclusivity wasn't a must in the old gallery; now it is. I'm curating a diverse roster of professional artists who each push boundaries."

When her gallery was located in the Rosemary District, Torres González taught art. But right now she is focusing her energy on her own work and collaborating with fellow gallery owners to promote Palm Avenue as an arts destination for tourists and locals alike. 

"Palm Avenue is having a new chapter. There are at least five art galleries on the block now. The scene has gone back to what it used to be," Torres González said.



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

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