Organization representatives have asked the Sarasota County School Board to extend their lease of Bahia Vista Street property to 99 years to help them in seeking funding for the project
With almost 100 students on the waiting list to participate in the Sailor Circus Academy, the co-founder and CEO of the Circus Arts Conservatory in Sarasota and the organization’s managing director have asked the Sarasota County School Board to consider extending their lease of Bahia Vista Street property to 99 years, so they can plan — and raise money — for expansion of the complex that is home to the 65-year-old academy.
Pedro Reis, the CEO, and Jennifer Mitchell, the managing director, appeared before the School Board during its last regular meeting of the year — on Dec. 8 — to discuss the Circus Arts Conservatory’s collaboration with Sarasota and Manatee county educators on fifth-grade projects designed to help the students succeed on their annual state science assessment.
However, Reis and Mitchell took the opportunity to talk about what Reis referred to as “a little left turn” in the organization’s vision for the future.
Four years ago, Reis noted, what was then Circus Sarasota took over the Sailor Circus Academy and the lease on 2.2 acres of School Board property — including the Big Top — at 2075 Bahia Vista St. near downtown Sarasota. The lease was for 42 years, he added.
At the time, 90 students were participating in Circus Sarasota’s summer camp program, Mitchell noted. This past summer, that number had risen to 611, she added, characterizing it as “monumental growth.”
When the organization signed the contract with the School Board four years ago, she continued, the terms required Circus Sarasota to maintain 90 spots for students in the Sailor Circus Academy. The number of participants has grown to 120, she pointed out: “full capacity.” Almost 100 are on the waiting list, she added.
Two years ago, Reis and his wife and fellow Circus Sarasota founder, Dolly Jacobs-Reis, and their staff rebranded the organization, calling it the Circus Arts Conservatory, Reis explained. It encompasses not only Sailor Circus academy but also the Humor Therapy Program in the community, which provides outreach to people in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities
During the past four years, he continued, the organization has made improvements to the administrative offices and the arena at the Bahia Vista site, after relocating there, but “our vision has grown somewhat.”
Then he and Mitchell presented renderings showing how additional structures could be built behind the Big Top to provide more classroom and training space, with parking underneath one structure.
The goal is to maximize the potential of the location, which is close to both Sarasota High School and Ringling College of Art + Design’s Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA), Mitchell noted. The latter will make its home in the remodeled 1926 building that was the first Sarasota High School.
“It’s a multi-million-dollar project, obviously,” Reis told the School hopes the School Board will consider extending the organization’s lease from 42 years to 99, as the School Board did to assist community leaders in laying the groundwork for the SMOA.
That would be of great assistance to the organization for fundraising purposes, Mitchell noted. “We’ve been stewarding Sailor Circus with great passion, with a big heart for the kids that are there.” However, she added, “The renovations are crucial. We have, certainly, the demand and the interest by the youth.”
The organization also recently has partnered with the University of South Florida, she continued, as it seeks opportunities to expand its offerings to young people beyond the age of 18.
None of the School Board members commented on the lease extension request after Reis and Mitchell concluded their remarks. No discussion of the request is on the agenda for the board’s next regular meeting, scheduled for Jan. 5 at 6:30 p.m. in its chambers at The Landings in Sarasota. However, a board member could ask for such an item to be put on the agenda for the next monthly work session, which will be conducted on Jan. 19 at The Landings.
‘Rube Goldberg chain reactions’
For the other part of their presentation, Reis and Mitchell showed the board a video titled Marvelous Miraculous Circus Machine, which focused on the Circus Arts Conservatory’s work with fifth-graders.
Using inspiration from “Rube Goldberg artful chain reactions” and the American circus, the video showed, staff of the Circus Arts Conservatory created a program focused on Engineering in the Classroom. Students worked in teams with educators from the Conservatory to create their own Rube Goldberg machines, the video’s narrator pointed out. In the process, the youngsters learned about “physics and creative problem-solving,” the narration continued. The experiments included discussions of such topics as inertia, friction and Newton’s Laws of Motion.
After more than 1,500 fifth-graders completed the program, they were invited to a Marvelous, Miraculous Circus Machine show at the Conservatory’s Big Top on Bahia Vista Street. The production featured a “one-of-a-kind chain reaction with circus performers,” the narrator added.
The Conservatory works with an education task force comprising school district representatives from Sarasota and Manatee counties, Mitchell pointed out after the video concluded. It is led by Principal Barbara Shirley of Alta Vista Elementary School in Sarasota.
Referring to the science program, Mitchell told the School Board, “We will be continuing that this [school] year.”
After the presentation, Deputy Superintendent Scott Lempe, who had introduced Reis and Mitchell, told the audience, “I never made the leap between clowns and physics, but you can see how it happens very quickly, and it’s very creative.”