Sarasota philanthropist gives Van Wezel Foundation $1 million toward construction of planned Sarasota Performing Arts Center

Steyaert ‘officially kicks off’ campaign for facility proposed to replace Van Wezel

This March 21 graphic presented to the Sarasota City Commission shows how the new SPAC would be integrated into The Bay Park. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

On May 24, the Van Wezel Foundation received $1 million from “local philanthropist and longtime Van Wezel Foundation supporter Phil Steyaert,” it announced.

“On behalf of the Foundation and its board, I am incredibly honored to accept this meaningful gift from Phil Steyaert, a longtime champion of the Foundation and its mission,” said Jim Travers, Foundation board chair, in a news release.

“His generous gift, officially kicks off the private philanthropy campaign for the Sarasota Performing Arts Center, a legacy project that will have a lasting impact for generations to come,” Travers added in the release.

Steyaert’s gift was a response to the board’s $20-million commitment to the SPAC, which was announced in January at the Foundation’s annual Inspiration Gala, the release points out.

“The performing arts is so important to me — the warm feeling I get from being there, the excitement,” said Steyaert in the release. His hope, Steyaert added in the release, “is that other art and performance enthusiasts will join me in supporting this transformative project for our region.”

On April 4, the Sarasota City Commission voted 3-2 to approve a partnership agreement with the Van Wezel Foundation that calls for the city to pay for half of the estimated expense of the SPAC. Foundation representatives said they would be back before the commissioners in about a year with a proposed document that will provide details about the plans for the facility in the city’s Bay Park on 53 waterfront acres. That will include a refined estimate of the new hall’s expense, they said, as they continue to work with an architectural firm.

However, the fact that the city could struggle to pay its share of a $350-million or higher cost has raised community concerns, as The Sarasota News Leader has reported.

After relocating to Sarasota in 2005, the May 24 Foundation news release explains, “Steyaert was immediately drawn to the performing arts at the [Van Wezel]. As a former musician, he has been committed to sharing the arts by donating to the Foundation annually to advance its mission of creating and sustaining a vibrant performing arts center, advancing education, and enriching communities by inspiring minds through the power of the arts,” the release adds.

“Our Sarasota community has grown, but our space for the performing arts has not,” said Steyaert in the release. “There are so many people that enjoy going, and we can give more people the opportunity to go — many for the first time — when we build the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center. A larger and more contemporary venue for performances needs to be built, Steyaert added in the release.

“Phil has a deep passion for the Foundation’s mission and helping it grow so children and others in our community can share in and experience the power of the performing arts,” Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson noted in the release.

For more information about the Sarasota Performing Arts Center, visit