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Ringling School of Art Started with 75 Students

Articles: Sarasota History

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

Sarasota History - Ringling School of Art Started with 75 Students photo

Some of these Ringling Art School students did not return the year after this 1932 photo was taken on Lido Beach. It was the Depression, and students found it difficult to find the nearly $800 needed to cover, tuition, room, board, books and fees for the year.

The Ringling School of Art and Design began in 1931 as The School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Ringling Art Museum. Growing out of conversations between John Ringling and the president of Southern College (now Florida Southern College in Lakeland), it was established as a branch of Southern College. Verman Kimbrough, faculty member and chairman of the Music Department at Southern, became the resident director.

A number of vacant buildings close to the museum were purchased to house the school. They included the Bay Haven Hotel on what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way; the hotel was built in 1926 during Florida's land boom. About 75 students registered the first year, in both the art and junior college programs. Enrollment more than doubled the following year, but in the fall of 1933 only 14 students registered initially. After an announcement that scholarship assistance was available for any student who could pay $250 cash, the enrollment quadrupled.

During the early years, the organizational structure of the school changed. In May 1933, John Ringling approved a plan that severed ties with Southern College and placed the school under the direction of a committee of resident faculty. The new name for the independent school was the Ringling School of Art. The next year's course listings reflected the decision to focus on one academic program - art. Music and junior college courses were absent.

This photo from the Helms Collection was taken in front of the old Lido Pavilion, south of the later Moderne style Lido Casino. The $30,000 Pavilion was a project of John Ringling, Samuel Gumpertz and Owen Burns. When it opened in August 1926, six months after the Ringling Causeway was completed, its pier ran out into the water. The Sarasota Herald noted that benches along the pier and the many individual bathhouses next to the pavilion were painted in a variety of colors.

Today the Ringling Art School is called the Ringling College of Art. There have been many improvements to the college and its curriculum. It is definitely keeping up with 21st Century demands of technology and talented artists to meet those opportunities.


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