Sarasota's Modern Powerhouse

Guest Correspondence

Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College is the College’s contemporary and teaching art museum. As the only museum in the region dedicated exclusively to showcasing living artists and contemporary art, Sarasota Art Museum presents engaging and fresh perspectives through art with new and innovative exhibits opening throughout the year. 

The mission and vision of the Sarasota Art Museum states that it “is a catalyst for appreciation and understanding of the art of our time. As a platform for education, exposure, and experimentation, the Museum inspires new ideas and new ways of being through an endless rotation of transformative, relevant, and pioneering exhibitions and programs designed to elevate and empower all by cultivating discerning visual thinkers and ethical citizens.”

That all sounds great. But some of you may ask, “Ok, but why does this place really exist?” “Why did Ringling College and its supporters feel this museum was so important to create and champion?” There are so many reasons, but I believe the concise answer to that important question was built on two foundational pillars: preeminence and community.

If you are at all familiar with Ringling College or my 23-year tenure as president, you know that my vision and highest priority has always been to elevate the College and set the institution on a path to becoming the preeminent art and design college in the world. To me, this means achieving the pinnacle of distinction and excellence as an educational institution and being the art and design college people think of first. To accomplish that, we must be able to provide the absolute best faculty, staff, technology and facilities to ensure our students receive the world-class art and design education so they can go on to thrive in their chosen careers. Sarasota Art Museum provides one of these key, state-of-the-art facilities for our students to utilize.

Located on many other distinguished college and university campuses across the country – the likes of Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Williams College and Rhode Island School of Design to name a few – are some of the very best and most prestigious museum art collections in the country. These museums are often labeled as the institutions’ ‘hidden gems’ and provide the perfect spaces for self-discovery, cultural reflection, contemplation and personal growth. 

While many of those museums house older, permanent and often culturally-specific collections, our Sarasota Art Museum is a kunsthalle. That means we have the freedom and the space to provide endless new perspectives and inspiring encounters, free from the responsibility to keep, store and maintain pieces of art. This decision was purposeful and strategic. It allows us to be a living, dynamic laboratory and also presents myriad opportunities to experience contemporary works by living artists in a variety of diverse mediums. As a ‘teaching museum’ we can use art to ignite creativity, imagination and critical thinking in different ways that complement a student’s other forms of study. 

Contemporary art, as it is loosely defined, refers to artwork produced in the second half of the 20th century or in our current age of the 21st. Contemporary artists work in a globally influenced, culturally diverse and technologically advancing world. At Ringling College, we, too, are home to the next generation of creative visionaries. In this ever-evolving world, we encourage our students to take risks, think differently, disrupt, embrace their failures and thereby manifest their creativity. The Museum serves as a powerhouse where they can see other fellow artists, disruptors and creators whose risks and creativity have led to something significant and impactful through their work. “Education, exposure, and experimentation,” as the mission states, are just some of the opportunities the Museum can provide to Ringling College’s students, as well as other college/university students, families, children, visitors and each and every member of our community. 

And that gets me to my second point – community. Ringling College is committed to being an integral part of this community. The historic Sarasota High School has been a landmark in this community since it was built in 1927. When the building was in danger of being lost forever, the College stepped up and committed to raise the money for a beautiful rehabilitation to reuse it for another purpose. The architectural gem that was Sarasota High School – stands as a symbol of Ringling College’s commitment to and investment in the community. Saving this remarkable Sarasota landmark and providing a space to nurture human connection demonstrates convincingly this commitment to the community while also serving as good stewards and promoters of the arts here in Sarasota and beyond. 

Thomas Merton, a well-known writer and philosopher said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” So I invite you to come and experience our Museum. Delight in an unexpected exhibition; take a ceramics class; enjoy lunch at the Bistro; attend Jazz Thursdays. Find yourself; lose yourself. Explore what Sarasota Art Museum has to offer. 

Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art & Design.

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