Number of tourists attending performances well surpasses the national average, the county’s Arts and Cultural Alliance director tells the Tourist Development Council
Asolo Repertory Theatre’s report that it broke its box office record with West Side Story is just one of numerous signs of the strength arts and cultural organizations are experiencing this season, Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, told members of the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) during their most recent meeting.
Asolo Rep reported 24,878 people saw West Side Story, which ran from Nov. 10 through Dec. 27, 2015, Shirley said on March 17. Attendance for that show was at 98 percent, he added.
Yet, for all shows thus far this season, Shirley continued, the theater group is running at 96-percent capacity, and 53 percent of audience members the previous week were from outside Sarasota County.
In fact, Shirley pointed out, with theatergoers in such high numbers at Asolo Rep, “They’re running out of parking places” for weekday matinees, when the Ringling Museum is open. The combined parking facilities at the Ringling complex number slightly more than 600, he noted.
The Ringling Museum itself, he said, recorded 400,209 visitors for the 2014-15 season, “which is up substantially” from the year before. They came from all 50 states, plus U.S. territories and countries from all over the world, he pointed out, though 35 percent of them were from Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Florida Studio Theatre also broke its record for subscriptions this year, Shirley told the TDC members, and its staff says shows are running at 97-percent capacity, with 51 percent of attendees from outside the county — what he called “a tremendous increase.”
At Sarasota Opera this season, Shirley said, overall attendance is up 3.5 percent compared to last season, and the number of tourists is up 6.4 percent.
Venice Theatre, he continued, is running at 93-percent capacity, even though it is a community theater. About 40 percent of its attendees are tourists, he noted, which is comparable to the number reported by most of the local arts and cultural organizations. That figure, though, is well above the U.S. average, he added. The Sarasota average is “almost unheard of,” Shirley said.
“The arts are really pulling their weight this year,” Shirley told the advisory board. “So much of the reason for that is the quality of the performances, the exhibitions, the cultural offerings …”
Although she knew people would differ with her view, Suzanne Atwell, vice mayor of Sarasota, said of the parking situation at the Ringling complex, “It’s a great problem to have. It means you’re successful. … It’ll balance out.”
Shirley also reported that while the final 2016-17 budget Gov. Rick Scott recently signed included only about 60 percent of the arts and cultural funding sought statewide, that would not have as significant an impact on Sarasota County organizations. “Fortunately, we have a tremendous philanthropic community here,” he added.
According to the state’s Division of Cultural Affairs, a total of $45,002,090 was requested in the 2016-17 budget, and the amount approved was $33,068,633. Sarasota County ended up with $1,390,704 out of the $2,372,827 it was seeking through the state’s Cultural And Museum Grant program, state figures show.
Among county entities receiving funds, Mote Marine in Sarasota won $250,000 for an expansion of its infrastructure. Mote spokeswoman Kaitlyn Fusco told The Sarasota News Leader on March 21 that the money will be used for research facilities.