By Charlie Huisking
Eric Barron, the new president of Florida State University, made such a good impression in Sarasota this week that I almost expected audience members to start that “Whoo, ooh ooh ooh ooh” Seminole war chant.
Barron did get a thunderous ovation from supporters of the Ringling Museum of Art and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory at a reception in the ornate Rubens gallery. The onlookers were thrilled to hear Barron heap lavish praise on the museum, which is operated by the university, and on the conservatory, which FSU operates in partnership with the Asolo Repertory Theatre.
“I love the museum and the conservatory. They are absolute gems,” Barron said. “I’ve been in this job for only 10 weeks, and this is already my second trip down here. That should tell you how important these institutions are to me, and to FSU.”
Supporters of the museum and the graduate acting program didn’t always feel the love from FSU during the tenure of former president T. K. Wetherell. Last year, when FSU’s budget was severely cut by the state, Wetherell warned that the institutions might have to become self-sufficient. There was even talk of putting the museum “in mothballs” temporarily.
Some said Wetherell was purposely exaggerating in order to get the Legislature’s attention and forestall even larger cuts. Possibly referring to those remarks, Barron said, “You will hear no mixed messages from me. We value [the museum and conservatory], and want to help them become even better.”
A 1973 graduate of FSU, Barron was a geology major and has held major positions at scientific institutions. But he said he has a great appreciation for the arts, and can’t wait to return to Sarasota to take a more leisurely tour of the museum campus.
His wife, Molly, agreed. “We had such a quick tour that my head was spinning,” she said when she took the podium briefly. Smiling at her husband, she said, “I can’t wait to come back—with or without you.”
Barron wasn’t the only dignitary who was eager to tour the Ringling campus recently. Actor Kevin Kline, in town for the Sarasota Film Festival, wanted to see the Historic Asolo Theater, the 18th-century Baroque playhouse that came from Asolo, Italy, and which has been reassembled in the museum’s visitors’ center.
When Kline arrived, FSU/Asolo Conservatory students were in the middle of a rehearsal for the comedy The Game of Love and Chance. The students were shocked to see Kline hovering in the background, and were elated when the Juilliard-trained actor agreed to spend half an hour speaking with the students about his distinguished career.
“The students were absolutely thrilled,” said Greg Leaming, the director of the program. “I only wish that I had been there, too.”
La Musica Ends On a High Note
The La Musica International Chamber Music Festival concluded Wednesday with the gorgeous Quintet for Piano and Strings by Robert Schumann. But it wasn’t just the beautiful music that made executive director Sally Faron smile, even though she’d been plagued by a cold during the 10-day festival.
“Our attendance was up this year, and I’m so pleased, considering the economy,” Faron said. She credits a 2-for-1 ticket promotion aimed at first-time concertgoers. “That was very successful for us,” she said. “We did reach new people who hadn’t tried us out before. And we even got some younger people.”
The festival ended just as flights to Europe were resuming after being interrupted by the Icelandic volcano. Many of the La Musica musicians had come from Europe, and all were able to return home on schedule, Faron said.