Dialing in a New Frequency

Guest Correspondence

When I meet someone new, I always ask what drew them here or what connects them to this community. Expected answers like “family” and “the weather” come up often but rounding out the list of usual response is “The Arts.” It is a wide-sweeping phrase, and can mean many things: performing arts, visual arts, arts organizations, independent artists, arts education or a general yearning to be among creatively inclined people. Our community’s artistic tendencies are so ingrained in our cultural foundation that Visit Sarasota, our visitor and convention bureau, has registered the tagline “Florida’s Cultural Coast,” which it has been using for more than 25 years to tout our rich treasure trove of and love of the arts. 

This identity certainly makes us unique and attractive to visitors, as well as longtime residents and newcomers alike. As we continue to welcome neighbors to our area, the arts are an enduring beaconing song; however, as generations shift, we have an opportunity to invite new voices into our arts community, to create a new harmony of legends and innovators. 

This summer, I had the privilege of witnessing how younger, diverse voices can create a positive impact on our local arts scene. Through generous, visionary donors and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, we were able to bring the Diversity in Arts Leadership (DIAL) internship to Sarasota-Manatee, joining just five other municipalities across the nation that host DIAL.  

A program of Americans for the Arts, DIAL gives college students who are underrepresented in arts administration the opportunity to complete a paid internship program. Our inaugural program brought five college students into the following five organizations: The Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Art Museum, Manatee Performing Arts Center, CreArte Latino Cultural Center and The Ringling Museum’s Historic Asolo Theater. In these internships, the students spent 10 weeks learning about the business of the arts, from marketing and development to curation and technical production operations.  

While learning on the job, these students also brought smart questions and new ways of thinking to the organizations they worked with. For some time now there has been a collective concern about how to engage younger generations in the arts, and I like to think students like the DIAL interns offer some answers. Their voices and experiences shine a light on how our region can continue to be known for its vibrant arts community, but perhaps with a new take. 

With oversight by the Cross College Alliance, DIAL connected young adults attending Ringling College of Art and Design, State College of Florida, New College of Florida, and we welcomed one student from George Mason University. With options like New York City and Nashville, all chose Sarasota-Manatee as their location. Here they saw a community to learn from and where they could add to the chorus of creative professionals that infuse our region with vitality. 

It is my hope that when the next generation of arts leaders is asked what drew them to the area, the answer is “career opportunities,” and when asked what connects them to community is “the people.”  

Roxie Jerde is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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