Great Performances – The Next 50 years

Guest Correspondence

Art courtesy City of Sarasota.

As Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall begins a new season, it’s 50th, I had the good fortune to be in the audience for Tony Bennet’s concert last Tuesday night. Mr. Bennet is 93 years old. When his talented daughter Antonia opened the show with three songs of her own, I began to wonder if we were only going to see Tony for a few duets. But after her fourth song, Antonia said “goodnight” and exited the stage. The curtain parted, and with Frank Sinatra’s voice introducing him, out walked Tony Bennet, blue suit, red tie, full head of hair, a twinkle in his eyes and a big smile on his face.

He loves singing. His first lyrics were “I’m in the prime of my life and I’m having the time of my life” to which the crowd roared in appreciation for the spirit of the 93-year-old crooner. “I’m in the prime of my life, I’m having the time of my life” What a great mantra at any age. Mr. Bennet went on to perform 27 ballads, no breaks, never sat down, never missed a note. As he exited the stage, seeing how much joy was in the house, I thought about how fortunate we have been here on the Gulf Coast for the past 50 years to have such an accessible performing arts hall and all the talent our community has had a chance to enjoy over the decades.

Like Tony Bennet, our performing arts hall is still functioning, but unlike Tony, it’s showing its age and vulnerability to rising sea levels, as it sits near the edge of Sarasota Bay. But now, thanks to a $10 million bequeath to the Van Wezel foundation, from former Ringling Circus star and local philanthropist Herta Cuneo, the planning for a modern new performing Arts Hall, on high ground, set back from the Bayfront, is now underway.

On Monday, the City Commission accepted the first report from the team planning the new Sarasota Performing Arts Hall. The new hall will have more seats, a larger lobby and its front porch will face Sarasota Bay. The current hall will be repurposed. The new complex, which we hope to open within five to seven years, will feature an outdoor amphitheater and facilities to strengthen our youth arts education programs, which served over 30,000 youth on the Gulf Coast last year. Beginning early next year, the new Performing Arts Hall Team will begin a major outreach effort to solicit input on what features the public would like to see at the future Sarasota Performing Arts Hall adjacent to downtown Sarasota. I hope you consider participating. Their mission is to provide a great new facility where you will always feel you are in the prime of life where you can have the time of your life.

Your comments are always welcome. Please email me at:

Art courtesy City of Sarasota.

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