The Fine Art of Sarasota


Local Art

Exploring Sarasota’s fine arts community is like attending a fabulous costume ball. It introduces you to a visual dance where you can open the imagination and see the creativity of artists who have helped to build the facade of Florida’s Cultural Coast. Today, many fine artists call Sarasota home, participate in local associations, and support the city’s unique art-oriented retail districts, which provide residents and visitors with unique first-hand opportunities to learn about the people who contribute to the creative force of this community. If you are ready to discover the visual arts in Sarasota, make sure you take time to visit some of the fantastic galleries in the downtown area, as well as tour the city’s renowned repositories of fine art, including the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

One of the best groups to help acquaint you with the movers and shakers in Sarasota’s art world is The Fine Art Society of Sarasota (FASS) Founded in 1969, the not-for-profit organization meets once each month from September through May and houses its permanent collection at the Van Wezel. FASS has accumulated work that dates from the 1930s to the present, including an impressive collection by Florida artists, some of national recognition. For example, a notable addition to the FASS anthology in the 2008/2009 season is a watercolor by Emily Holmes, who also is one of the FASS founders.

If you are interested in a guided tour of the collection, it is offered the first Tuesday of every month in partnership with the Van Wezel. The “Art and Backstage Tours” provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about the collection and a behind-the-scenes look at how the performing arts hall operates. Moreover, each year the organization hosts a major fundraiser, and to date FASS has awarded more than $600,000 to artists who study in the areas of visual arts, dance, writing, music, theater, and architecture.

The Art Center Sarasota also has strong roots in the local Sarasota fine art community, and they span back more than 60 years. The organization was formed in 1999 through the merger of two established galleries and studios and their respective associated memberships. The first was the Sarasota Visual Arts Center, which began as the Sarasota Art Association in 1928. The second was the Friends of the Arts & Sciences, which was chartered in 1963. The two groups came together to form a “member-supported, non-profit art association whose mission is to support visual arts by providing quality art education and focusing interest on the considerable quality of art done by local artists.”

Today, the Art Center Sarasota offers an education program, funds scholarships, and hosts exhibitions. The organization’s Exhibition Program includes storage for a permanent collection of historic and significant artwork by Sarasota artists. Additionally, the Sam & Sally Shapiro Sculpture Garden has a wonderful collection of large works by well-known artists including Roy Bellas, Dwight Cooley, Don Drumm, and Vicky Randall. You can visit the gallery Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am until 4 pm.

The Sarasota County Arts Council is another advocate of the local arts community. Formed in 1986 by Senator Bob Johnson and a group of citizens, this organization helps to promote art and culture through its website and events. On the website (, you will find a searchable calendar of all local events as well as a directory of fine artists in the Sarasota area. The group is most well known for founding Arts Day in 1990, a one-day festival that now annually draws 30,000 people to the downtown area.

Stops Around Town

If you’re ready to wander through amazing galleries and check out some of Sarasota’s fine art offerings firsthand, make Palm Avenue one of your first stops. Located downtown and intersecting with Main Street, this retail district was one of Sarasota’s most prestigious addresses in the 1920s. Today it is home to many galleries and antique stores that showcase a wide range of mediums, styles, periods, and artists. Additionally, the local merchants host an Art Walk the first Friday of each month from 6 pm until 10 pm.

The Towles Court Art District, which is within walking distance from Palm Avenue, also hosts an Art Walk, which takes place on the third Friday of each month during the same hours. This unique enclave was formed in the mid 1990’s by N.J. Olivieri, who began purchasing dilapidated homes in the area in the early 1980 in hopes of creating a picturesque, historical community. He later was convinced by friends to turn it into a true artists’ colony. The original mayor of Sarasota, John Gillespie, was one of the first people to build in Towles Court. He constructed a home and a nine-hole golf course on the land, and then in the 1920’s William B. Towles turned the area into a modest residential neighborhood. When Olivieri decided to resurrect the homes, he saved them from the wrecking ball. Today, Towles Court is home to artists and gallery owners who share a beautiful courtyard and the historic ambiance of days past in Sarasota. Inside their walls you will find a wide range of local fine art from paintings to sculptures to pottery.

Ringling Art

Of course, no tour of Sarasota’s fine art collections and exhibitions would be complete without a stop at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Opened in 1931, the museum contains the best fine art collection in Florida and houses masterpieces by artists including Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, and Gainsborough. The scope of the work includes paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and decorative arts of European, American, and Asian origin. The Ringling campus also includes the Asolo Theater, Ca d’Zan Mansion, and Circus Museums. The Art Museum underwent a $76-million expansion and renovation in January 2007 and the new Arthur F. and Ulla R. Searing Wing was added, which completed a five-year master plan and made the museum the sixteenth largest in the United States.

From intimate galleries to monumental museums, you will find the perfect venue to appreciate and purchase fine art in Sarasota. The breadth and scope of local artists rivals the offerings of major metropolitan cities, and the organizations that support the arts are second to none!