John Ringling was an intriguing contradiction: a connoisseur of high art (he believed an art museum was essential to every town) and an impresario of the mythic, at times gaudy world of the circus. He and his wife, Mable Ringling, first purchased land along the Sarasota Bay in 1911, and by 1925, his net worth exceeded $200 million. At that point, they also owned several of the surrounding Florida Keys, and began nurturing cultural institutions—including their eponymous art museum and school, the Ringling Museum of Art and the Ringling College of Art and Design—that still distinguish Sarasota as a site of artistic experimentation and innovation.
Recently, Art Ovation, a new hotel in downtown Sarasota, began collaborating with the Ringling College of Art and Design to connect guests to the arts through a wealth of classes, demonstrations, and exhibitions within the hotel. The inaugural exhibition, “Legacy,” featured art by faculty, alumni, and students from the college; the hotel is building a permanent collection by acquiring pieces from each exhibition, and guests are even able to participate in the selection process.
Complimentary on-site classes for guests range from origami to portrait painting to paper weaving, and a local artist-in-residence is situated in a studio space in the lobby. Guests can also try out musical instruments, and guest rooms are all equipped with a ukulele (lessons take place at the rooftop bar), art supplies, and a dedicated workspace for focused exploration.
Nearby, Art Center Sarasota offers one-day and week-long classes in mixed media, acrylics and oils, watermedia, printmaking, and more. The historic venues that anchor Sarasota’s cultural scene are also in close proximity, like the Florida Studio Theatre, the Sarasota Opera, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (which has a performance series as well as an art gallery), the Sarasota Ballet, and the Asolo Repertory Theatre.