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Save the date for Sarasota's inaugural Living Arts Fest in November

Jeffery Kin's Living Arts Festival will debut in and around Sarasota in November.
Jeffery Kin's Living Arts Festival will debut in and around Sarasota in November.
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If you’re new to Sarasota, you can be forgiven for assuming Jeffery Kin is running for political office. Kin seems to attend every premiere, community event and fundraiser, not just in Sarasota, but up and down Florida’s Gulf Coast. 

The erstwhile actor is indefatigable. What’s more, he’s relentlessly cheerful. 

After someone recently tried to rain on his parade, Kin announced on Facebook that one of his favorite songs is “Don’t Steal My Sunshine,” and linked to a video of the 1990s ditty by the Canadian indie rock band Len. 

No one could ever take away the bright light emanating from Kin, though a recent bout of food poisoning knocked him off his game for about a day.

That may not sound like a very long time. But in the world of Jeffery Kin, a day is jam-packed full of business meetings and social engagements from morning until night.

What is Kin up to anyway? It’s no secret Kin is executive director and CEO of Sarasota Rising, an “arts initiative” he founded in 2021 after resigning as artistic director of The Players Centre for Performing Arts, the community theater now known as The Sarasota Players.

Armed with funding from private donors, Visit Sarasota and the Sarasota Downtown Improvement District, as well as the participation of area cultural organizations, Kin is committed to launching an arts festival this November, a time described as “shoulder season” on Sarasota Rising’s website. That’s when season is getting started but is not yet in full swing.

What has been dubbed the Living Arts Festival is scheduled for Nov. 10-17 in a number of locations, not just in Sarasota, but in places like Venice and even as far as Englewood. “I’m taking a broad view of our brand, the Cultural Coast,” Kin says.

In its first year, the Living Arts Festival is being marketed to locals and residents of other parts of Florida, who, it is hoped, will come to Sarasota to enjoy the arts fest.

Sarasota has a good track record with festivals, including the Sarasota Music Festival and the Sarasota Film Festival. It also has an impressive roster of formidable cultural institutions, including the Sarasota Orchestra, the Sarasota Ballet, the Sarasota Opera and The Ringling Museum.

What it doesn’t have is an interdisciplinary arts festival along the lines of the successful Spoleto Festival USA, held each year in Charleston, South Carolina.

When it’s pointed out that Sarasota’s arts groups tend to be “siloed,” management jargon for when departments within the same organization don’t communicate with each other and pursue their own agendas, Kin replies, “Silos? I love that term. I’m a farm boy from Ohio.”

Kin doesn’t disagree that historically there hasn’t been a lot of coordination among Sarasota’s arts groups, but he says COVID changed that. 

Working with the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, then under the leadership of Jim Shirley, Sarasota’s arts groups began conferring with each other to adopt a uniform standard to protecting performers, audience members and others from contracting the disease. 

“Every week, we’d have a Zoom call among arts groups leaders to talk about what was happening,” says Kin, who was on those calls as artistic director of The Players. “There really was a silver lining to the pandemic because it opened up channels of communication that still exist today.”

There are lots of silver linings in Kin’s playbook. When he learned that Selby Five Points Park was booked on the days the festival was eyeing it for an event, Kin switched to the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium lawn. This way, if it rains, the festival event can be moved inside. It’s also easier to park next to the auditorium than it is around Five Points.

Kin is still enlisting partners for the Living Arts Festival. Some of those who have committed aren’t the usual suspects. For instance, the Venice Symphony is on board. “We asked them and they said yes,” Kin says by way of explanation.

Because many of Sarasota’s arts organizations each have their own ticketing system, they will sell their tickets or wristbands to the events they stage as part of the Living Arts Festival and keep that ticket revenue, Kin says.

Kin is finding potential festival partners in unexpected places. At a recent breakfast meeting at Project Coffee in the Rosemary District, Kin met Elizabeth Doud, the Currie-Kohlmann Curator of Performance at The Ringling. 

As fate would have it, Doud is kicking off her 2024-25 season, most of which takes place within the Historic Asolo Theater, with an outdoor Eco Fest. Some of those dates coincide with Kin’s Living Arts Festival. 

Over coffee, Doud and Kin kicked around the idea of cross-pollination, especially since The Ringing’s Eco Fest will be free, to bring in younger and underserved audiences to what is being billed as a fun yet educational event.

“We’re doing it as a test to see who we can attract with a free event,” Doud says.

After a brief chat, Kin and Doud exchanged business cards and agreed to explore the possibility of having their respective festivals collaborate. Another meeting, another opportunity to put the Living Arts Festival on the map.

Moments earlier, Kin had run into Summer Dawn Wallace, artistic director of Urbanite Theatre, the edgy black-box venue located downtown. Kin wished Wallace luck in her training for two marathons later this year and they agreed to talk about Urbanite’s participation in the Living Arts Festival. 

Just the previous day — or was it the day before that? — Kin had met with Kinsey Robb, executive director of Art Center Sarasota, which holds juried art shows and gives artists an opportunity to display and sell their works in its galleries. Kin wants the Living Arts Festival to include visual as well as performing arts.

Toward that end, he’s working to recycle some of the art shown in the Embracing Our Differences exhibition in Bayfront Park earlier this year. 

Founded in 2004, Embracing Our Differences received more than 16,000 entries from 125 countries and 44 states in response to its 2024 call for artwork and quotations celebrating inclusion, kindness and respect.

If all goes according to Kin’s plan, some of the winning billboard-sized artwork from Embracing Our Differences will get an encore viewing in the Living Arts Festival. 

It’s not a criticism to say Kin’s baby is a work in progress. But there are bound to be plenty of silver linings along the way as Kin and his team of mainly volunteers put the schedule together for the inaugural Living Arts Festival. 

Some of those volunteers were with him at The Players and showed up for a meeting at Sarasota Rising’s Main Street offices last month bearing homemade chicken salad and baked goods.

There’s no denying Kin inspires loyalty among his followers, who are willing to go the distance for him.

So whatever you do, don’t try to steal his sunshine.



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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