From the ashes of the battle to preserve the Ringling Tower Hotel in downtown Sarasota was born a fund entrusted to the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. Each year, the Alliance fields submissions in visual, performance and literary art. The applications go through a rigorous selection process by well-qualified panels to ensure that the most deserving, local professional artists are rewarded for their efforts. “We want to help raise the level of the arts available in Sarasota County,” says Jim Shirley, executive director of the Alliance, which last year gave individual artist grants to visual artist Laine Nixon, playwright and actor Terrance Jackson and writer Kaylene McCaw, highlighting the depth of creative talent thriving within Sarasota County.

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Breathing Fire Into the Human Experience 

Kaylene McCaw – Literary Art  Dragons have a reputation for possessing fear-inducing power that makes both villagers and ironclad knights run for cover. Kaylene McCaw, who identifies with dragons and admits she sometimes wields her own fire with untempered enthusiasm, wants to flip the script on dragons’ public relations. “We just don’t want to be rejected,” she says, “but breathing fire gets in the way of that.” Fear not, McCaw’s fire won’t be burning down buildings anytime soon—her fire is a message promoting self-empowerment, intuitive self-guidance and quiet audacity in the face of life’s challenges.  Her grant and subsequent stay at The Hermitage led to the development of what she calls “a children’s book for adults”—a book that reads like a guide book to an amusement park titled, “The Human Experience – A Quickstart Guide.” The book expresses a “no harm, no foul” approach to living, she says, forgoing the you-blew-it mentality underpinning many self-help ideologies. When she received the grant, it was the culmination of an artistic cycle fully nurtured by and in Sarasota. Her early work producing YouTube videos eventually led to a script for a solo play called Guidance On Demand, which she went on to perform at the SaraSolo Festival. But her children’s book for adults is more about distilling the heady content of her play into a more accessible format. McCaw feels that her work resonates more loudly with a younger audience. “My heart is really for the 20-somethings,” she says. “There’s just a ‘you get me’ soul-to-soul connection.” She’ll be toying around with infiltrating the St. Petersburg and Tampa open mic scene in hopes of connecting with a greater number of young adults. But the ultimate goal is loftier still, a global game-changer if you can teach the youngest generation of kids about self-empowerment and spiritual confidence. “Then you never have to have a battle,” she says. “We just change the way our children think and boom!, we’re in a new world.” A world full of dragons high-fiving and achieving their full potential.


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Legacy of a Sarasota Heroine    

TERRANCE JACKSON—PERFORMANCE ART   Few Sarasota natives know anything about the figure whose name graces three local schools—Emma E. Booker Elementary, Booker Middle and Booker High. Terrance Jackson, a Sarasota native that attended all three schools, decided it was time to let the world know a little bit more about the pioneering individual. Jackson’s proposal for the grant was a one-man play that explores the history and legacy of Emma E. Booker, a champion of education that founded the first African-American schools in Sarasota during the early 20th century, a time when the black community was not afforded the resources to educate their youth.   “There’s so much research that has to be done on Emma E. Booker,” he says, “and that took up the majority of my time.” Time is the resource offered by the grant, which allowed Jackson to travel around the Bay area in between acting gigs in search of clues to Booker’s past. Jackson, a seasoned actor and digital media creator, graduated from University of Central Florida with a BFA in acting, but his bachelor’s degree did not prepare him for the amount of extensive investigative work required to find any information on Booker’s history. Most importantly, Jackson says he wants to “provide an opportunity for our community of Sarasota and also Newtown to have a positive light,” he says, “to show that there are people who care about producing awesome work.” By connecting with a little-known but vital element of Sarasota’s past, Jackson hopes his one-man play can illuminate the unheralded legacy of Sarasota’s first black educator. The need for his work is particularly important today, a time when some communities struggle to celebrate and honor their differences and learn from their divisive pasts. Next up for Jackson is a full-time gig as the creative producer for Youth Ministry 360 in Birmingham, AL, a job that represents the confluence of his talent as an artist and his boundless optimism in shaping the world around him into a better place.


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Abstract Art From a Busy Mind

LAINE NIXON—VISUAL ART  In early August, Laine Nixon sat in an idyllic Utah meadow sketching some pink flowers. Though sketching is a stereotypical “artist” thing to do, Nixon, an abstract artist, seldom does so. The novelty was rewarded when a hummingbird introduced itself into her field of vision, performing its buzzing dance for a minute or two before it flitted off to a magical ether to recuperate from its turbo-charged metabolism. Maybe something in the bird’s dynamism foreshadowed a transformation that Nixon would undergo when she was awarded one of three grants from the John Ringling Tower fund, as though she was being urged to sip the nectar of new possibilities.  “I’m not the kind of artist that works in my medium every day,” she says, opting instead to spend most of her time planning, plotting and scheming until a eureka! moment incites a flurry of activity. But Nixon, like many artists, was in search of a wrench she could throw into her mental machinery to provoke change in her creative and cognitive energy. With the grant comes a six-week stay at The Hermitage Artist Retreat and the chance to “problem solve on a daily basis,” as Nixon says, and practice and produce art in a more regimented process. “The great thing about an opportunity like this,” she says, “is it does make you expand or work in a little bit different way.”

Her proposal for the grant was a scaled-up version of a collection of 4x6 color-studies that she refers to as Assents. Nixon says the piece is a metaphor for one aspect of the human experience, particularly the way so much of our lives is just an “agreement of these disparate pieces coming together.” And the grant kept on giving. The pieces that emerged from the grant led to Nixon’s first solo showing at a gallery in Tampa, the “highest point of my career,” she says. Next up for Nixon? Continuing the daily approach she came to cherish during her time utilizing the grant, and maybe keeping her eyes open for the little hovering buzz of inspiration that found her in early August.