Connecting community and culture New performance venue for Sarasota

2 June 2023

Thanks to a very generous donor working with Myriad Canada, a new performing arts centre will open its doors, offering the people of this Florida city extraordinary cultural and educational experiences that can open a world of new possibilities.     

Paul Seed (Credit: Peter Aker)

“The vision of how it would be transformational to the community really drew me to this project,” says Paul Seed, the Canadian who initiated the establishment of a 10-million US dollar Fund at Myriad Canada to support the architect and design team in conceiving a venue that will serve future generations. “The organisation is passionate about arts education and the difference it makes.”

A city rooted in the arts

When Seed took up seasonal residence in Sarasota, he was immediately taken by its vibrant arts scene. For the past century, Sarasota has been a prominent destination for culture on the US Gulf Coast. Its Van Wezel Hall is a landmark venue offering world-class music, dance, and theatre. It also anchors Sarasota’s cultural and tourism economy.

However, the Hall is environmentally endangered, as it sits in a high-risk flood zone and is already suffering severe salt damage. The highly vulnerable structure, built in 1970, cannot be renovated for sustainability in compliance with federal regulations while serving as a state-of-the-art performing arts centre. With a view to boosting its economic and cultural vitality, the City of Sarasota is partnering with the private sector to lead the community into a new era.

A new community vision

The Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation is a non-profit entity charged with creating and operating a contemporary performing arts centre which will enrich and inspire diverse audiences. The projected 275-million dollar venue is part of a plan to reimagine Sarasota’s 21-hectare bayfront. This includes revitalising mangroves and wetlands and creating a public park. The Foundation’s strategic plan has been shaped by survey responses from over 18,000 people. The polling clearly showed that Sarasota’s residents value the role of the performing arts in supporting economic development and providing cultural learning opportunities.

At the heart of the Foundation’s mission is exposing young people to arts education and lowering barriers for families to access performances. The new centre will expand these opportunities with the help of technology.

“We’re going to have the ability to simulcast what’s happening inside to the park outside, so families can enjoy the ballet or a Broadway show,” says Foundation chairman Jim Travers. “It’s absolutely our vision for this to be a community asset. We are also looking to extend our mission and partner with other non-profits to help people struggling with mental health to connect with the arts.”

Design for sustainable future

The Paul Seed Fund at Myriad Canada will support and underwrite the architects and design team to create the design concept and schematic design for the new centre. A community-based architect selection task force is leading a public procurement process to select a world-renowned design architect.

The new venue will be environmentally sustainable, resilient, and designed to meet a future rise in sea levels. It promises to become a valuable cultural icon for the greater Gulf Coast and serve as a hub for creativity, learning and innovation.

Says Travers: “This is a once-in-a generation opportunity to do something very significant and create a vital gateway connecting community and culture.”