Arts, Museums & Galleries
While the Sarasota area is world-renowned for its pristine beaches and near-perfect weather, the downtown area is known for its culture, dining, shops and diverse residential real estate opportunities. From its opera house to its many art galleries, from its charming boutiques to its lively nightlife, downtown Sarasota has something for everyone.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens provides 45 acres of bayfront sanctuaries connecting people with air plants of the world, native nature, and our regional history. Established by forward thinking women of their time, Selby Gardens is composed of the 15-acre Downtown Sarasota campus and the 30-acre Historic Spanish Point campus in the Osprey area of Sarasota County, Florida. The Downtown Campus on Sarasota Bay is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads and ferns, and other tropical plants. There is a significant focus on botany, horticulture, education, historical preservation, and the environment. The Historic Spanish Point (HSP) Campus is located less than 10 miles south along Little Sarasota Bay. The HSP Campus, one of the largest preserves showcasing native Florida plants that is interpreted for and open to the public, celebrates an archaeological record that encompasses approximately 5,000 years of Florida history.
In 2003, a group of 13 forward-thinking Sarasotans came together to further their goal of enhancing Sarasota’s rich cultural landscape with a contemporary art museum. After a two-year dialogue with area arts, educational, and community leaders, the Sarasota Art Museum partnered with Ringling College of Art + Design to transform the historic Sarasota High School into an art museum and visual arts educational center.
As the region’s first museum dedicated to contemporary art, the Museum offers visitors a place to see thought-provoking, boundary-pushing exhibitions and participate in dynamic educational programming with global thought leaders. The facility is a resource for learning about global art discourse and deepening appreciation for 20th and 21st century art and artists through exhibition gallery spaces, an auditorium, an outdoor sculpture garden, a bistro, retail store, and extensive grounds for performance, happenings, sculpture, site-specific and site-responsive installations, movement classes, and gatherings. The Sarasota Art Museum is an ideal “third space” for friends and family from the community, the region, and around the world to gather, learn, be inspired, and experience the power of art to transform society.
The Ringling Museum
Today, The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida, is home to one of the preeminent art and cultural collections in the United States. Its story begins nearly a century ago, with the circus impresario and his beloved wife’s shared love for Sarasota, Italy, and art.
The Building of Ca’ d’Zan
John Ringling was one of the five brothers who owned and operated the circus rightly called “The Greatest Show on Earth.” His success with the circus and entrepreneurial skills helped to make him, in the Roaring Twenties, one of the richest men in America, with an estimated worth of nearly $200 million.
In 1911, John and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota. In 1912, they began spending winters in what was then still a small town. They became active in the community and purchased more and more real estate, at one time owning more than 25 percent of Sarasota’s total area.
After a few years the couple decided to build a house and hired the noted New York architect Dwight James Baum to design it. Mable, who kept a portfolio filled with sketches, postcards and photos, wanted a home in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzi in Venice, Italy, with Sarasota Bay serving as her Grand Canal. Construction began in 1924 and was completed two years later at a then staggering cost of $1.5 million. Five stories tall, the 36,000 square foot mansion has 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms.
Mable supervised every aspect of the building, down to the mixing of the terra cotta and the glazing of the tiles. Today, the entrance to the grounds is through the Venetian gothic gateway where the Ringlings welcomed their guests to the opulent Ca’ d’Zan, or “House of John” in the Venetian dialect.
The Museum of Art
While traveling through Europe in search of acts for his circus, John Ringling, in the spirit of America’s wealthiest Gilded Age industrialists, began acquiring art and gradually built a significant collection. The more he collected, the more passionate and voracious a collector he became, educating himself and working with dealers such as Julius Bohler. He began buying and devouring art books – that would become the foundation of the Ringling Art Library.
Soon after the completion of Ca’ d’Zan, John built a 21-gallery museum modeled on the Florentine Uffizi Gallery to house his treasure trove of paintings and art objects, highlighted by his collection of Old Masters, including Velazquez, Poussin, van Dyke and Rubens. The result is the museum and a courtyard filled with replicas of Greek and Roman sculpture, including a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David.
John opened the Museum of Art to the public in 1931, two years after the death of his beloved Mable, saying he hoped it would “promote education and art appreciation, especially among our young people.” Five years later, upon his death, Ringling bequeathed it to the people of Florida.