Ringling festival a success, may return a year early

Bradenton Herald – Last week’s inaugural Ringling International Arts Festival was such an overwhelming success that organizers may bring the event back next year.

Originally planned to be held every two years, the arts festival — hosted by the John and Mable Ringling Museum, Florida State University and the Baryshnikov Arts Center — showcased some of the finest, avant-garde performing artists in the world. It resonated so strongly with patrons, artists and area students that the festival reestablished the area as a cultural destination while strengthening community enthusiasm for the arts – particularly during tough economic times.

“It was much more than we could have hoped for,” Sally M. McRorie, dean of the university’s College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance, said of the festival during Monday’s press conference at the museum.

Overall, theaters were at 92 percent capacity for festival programming with 25 of 36 presentations sold out.

Visitors came from around the world, McRorie said.

“That’s a great thing for this area, for these institutions and also for the state of Florida,” she said. “The arts really do drive economic development and cultural tourism, and we have to capitalize on that.”

A $1.5 million grant from the state of Florida helped keep ticket prices affordable. And festival workers and artists alone generated $680,000 for the local economy in labor, hotel, food service and rental, McRorie said.

To bring the festival back next year, Ringling and the university will examine the festival’s total economic impact for the state as well as find sufficient funding to help support it, among other factors, McRorie said. Otherwise, the next festival will be slated for 2011.

Baryshnikov will continue to be involved in future festivals in some form.

“His name certainly brings us a lot of cache,” McRorie said. “People know him, they know the work of the Baryshnikov Arts Center and I think it’s important to continue that relationship.”

Despite recent state budget cuts that have slashed programs and trimmed staffing, the museum and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, McRorie stressed that the university — which runs both organizations – is fully committed to find ways to help them remain thriving.

Because of the cuts, the museum and the conservatory must be financially self-sufficient in three years, finding ways to bring grants and money in through other sources. Part of that self-sufficiency lies in strengthening community outreach and educational programs. Initiatives feature a partnership with the Manatee School of the Arts and third-year Conservatory students.

Beginning next school year, Conservatory students will teach an acting course for high school seniors at the arts school. The class will allow 12th-graders to earn college credit. The university will also have a teaching partnership with the Michael Chekhov Theatre Institute in May. Plus, FSU will debut two courses on the Ringling campus: A graduate course in art history, called Gothic Art in the Gilded Age later this year and a full-time museum studies program next fall.

Also, as a result of festival attendance, the museum will stay open until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays beginning in November, said T. Marshall Rousseau, interim director museum.

“People love coming here at night,” Rousseau said.

Michael D. Edwards, artistic director of the Asolo Repertory Theatre, was thrilled by that idea.

Collaborative efforts through the festival has allowed the Asolo to piggyback on the festival’s success by promoting its season opener, “Contact,” which opens later this month. Thanks to festival, ticket sales for the “Contact” have been strong.

“This is the beginning of something extraordinary,” Edwards said.

published Oct. 13, 2009

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