Fresh from the “mega-galleries” of New York City,  Kinsey Robb left the Big Apple with the pandemic in full swing, looking for sandy beaches and whatever relative sanity a change of scenery might provide. Mere months later, remote work gave way to full relocation and now Robb finds herself the latest executive director for one of Sarasota’s longest-running creative nonprofits, Art Center Sarasota. SRQ took a moment to talk the importance of community, Sarasota’s special draw and the power of the juried show.

SRQ: How has it felt to be back in a gallery space?  

Kinsey Robb: Art appreciation is something that I really didn’t realize I had taken for granted until the pandemic. The physicality of being able to sit in front of an artwork was removed. Museums shut down. Galleries shut down. I’m so grateful that we have the ability now to sit in front of a work of art instead of seeing it on a computer screen, to be able to get up close and have a real interaction with a piece that might provoke a sense of some sort of exchange between you and that artwork, the artist. Art is a wonderful gift, and we’ve been without it for too long. 

SRQ: Why is it an exciting time to join Art Center Sarasota?

Robb outside the Art Center Sarasota with a structure designed by Carl Abbott. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan

Robb: The Bay Project is happening right now, and we sit on the 53 acres of what is going to be an unbelievable waterfront park retreat for the people of Sarasota to enjoy. There’s such a huge opportunity. We’re an arts organization that will now be surrounded by this beautiful environment. It’s very inspiring for us as and it’s even more inspiring for the teachers who come here to teach these art classes. We can now have visual examples in our backyard. Instead of a parking lot, people can look at a mangrove trail and kayak launch and all of these wonderful things.

SRQ: How do you talk about the differences between an art center and a commercial gallery space? '

Robb: I’ve worked in some very large commercial galleries—they call them the mega-galleries. It’s almost like when you have the banks that are too big to fail. It’s the equivalent of that but in the art world. You have this opportunity to learn a lot about how to work with established artists, how to work with museums, how to work with curators, with collectors. There’s impact there, but there’s something entirely different about the impact that you can make within a community. 

SRQ: Different how? 

Robb: Sarasota is a city, but still a small enough network where everybody’s very aware of what’s going on in the city. In New York, you sometimes lose that because it’s so vast. Art Center Sarasota has this ability to create a meaningful impact within the community that’s recognized by the community-at-large. Being able to build partnerships with organizations here, with businesses here, with the artists here? That creates a real sense of community. I sometimes think that’s the hidden gem in Sarasota. 

SRQ: How do you balance financial concerns with the Center’s creative mission? 

Robb: You have your mission, and you want to always uphold the value and the integrity of the mission of an organization. Then you have the other side of that, which is to create a support system so that mission can be sustainable over time. For Art Center Sarasota, areas that need more development are fundraising abilities and visibility. A lot of people are not aware of the Art Center, even though we’ve been around for almost 100 years. 

SRQ: Talk about hidden gems . . . 

707 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 941-365-2032,

Robb: A lot of people don’t even realize you can purchase artwork from the Art Center as well. And that’s something that puts us in a different position than a museum, where the work is not for sale, or a gallery, where the work might be for sale but you might not have the budget for it. We have works that are a few hundred dollars, and we have some that are a few thousand dollars. That makes it exciting, and it really does offer something for everyone.

SRQ: Is that the role of the community art center, to have something for everyone? 

Robb: That’s part of our mission as a community space. Sometimes art can be held in this kind of pretentious bubble. It can be very intimidating. But we’re an organization that’s not intimidating. We like to play with everyone. We like to have fun here. We like to encourage artists on all levels. If you want to enroll in one of the classes, enroll in a class. If you want to submit your artwork for a juried show, that’s great. That’s something that’s very important about the Art Center, and something that I would never want to change, because it really does serve people here.

SRQ: What partnerships are you excited for this year?

Robb: Andy Sandberg, from The Hermitage Artist Retreat, and I have been working on developing a series. We’re creating a kind of back-and-forth program where Art Center Sarasota will host artist discussions and engage with residents of The Hermitage, and then, on the flip side, we’ll bring some of our artists to The Hermitage for talks. I’m also looking forward to an upcoming juried show that will be taking place in late January through early March, in collaboration with Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative. They don’t have the exhibition space, but we do. There’s strength in numbers when organizations come together.