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History of the Art Association

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota History Alive, Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - History of the Art Association photo

The year 1926 was the birth time for many of Sarasota's organizations, businesses and buildings. One of those organizations is the Art Center Sarasota, which began as the Sarasota Art Association.

Marcia Rader, Art Supervisor for Sarasota County Schools, was the driving force behind the initial meetings of local art supporters who formed the association. In the early years, the group met monthly and sponsored exhibits in rented facilities.

It was not until 1941, two years after a reorganization that the association incorporated under the leadership of Truman Fassett. Its stated purpose was to promote "the educational and cultural advantages of Sarasota in the field of contemporary art."

For more than 20 years, the association was without a home. Members found gallery space in storefronts, hotel lobbies and even barracks at the airport.

In 1948, beginning with a modest bequest, the members raised the money for a $12,000 building. The City of Sarasota gave a parcel of land in the Civic Center, between the Municipal Auditorium and the Chidsey Library building. Architects Thomas Reed Martin and his son Frank Martin, designers of the next-door library, donated the plans and supervised construction for the association's first gallery. The Garden Club's Poinciana Circle planted flowers and shrubbery in front of the building.

With rapid growth in Sarasota's art community, the center already was too small when it opened January 30, 1949. Soon thereafter Joseph Steinmetz photographed the new building (photo above) during a weeklong sidewalk show and sale. Scheduled as one of the annual Sara de Sota Pageant festivities, the show provided a sales outlet for area artists and income for the association, which received a small commission from each sale.

In time for the next gallery season, Martin designed and oversaw construction of patio galleries at the back of the building. Walls surrounded tropical plants and a sunken pool. An extended roof provided shelter for the walkways.

Sarasota's reputation as an arts community grew after World War II. Nationally known artists participated in the association, opened local art schools, and taught in the new schools, or at the Ringling Art School.

In the mid-1960s, a new section on the front of the building provided a contemporary look as well as an expanded gallery. Expansion in the 1990s took the form of a sculpture garden on the north and east sides of the building.

With additional staffing, the center continues to respond to the changing picture of the arts in Sarasota.