Season on the Brink?

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As we wrap up this annual Season’s Preview issue, the economic news is grim, and we can’t help wondering how that might darken our cultural scene this year. Predictions are iffy (wasn’t someone just saying, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong”?), but there are some reasons to hope. Remember how Americans flocked to theaters […]


As we wrap up this annual Season’s Preview issue, the economic news is grim, and we can’t help wondering how that might darken our cultural scene this year. Predictions are iffy (wasn’t someone just saying, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong”?), but there are some reasons to hope. Remember how Americans flocked to theaters during the Great Depression? (My sourpuss colleague points out they didn’t have big-screen TVs at home in those days.) A good sign: Sales for some Sarasota arts groups have been brisk this fall.

Under the leadership of new artistic director Iain Webb, for example, subscriptions for Sarasota Ballet have more than doubled, and the Sarasota Film Society “had a phenomenal summer” and expects a strong season, says executive director Barbara Caras

According to Reynold Levy, president of the Lincoln Center, financial support for the arts stays surprisingly strong during economic recessions, dropping by only 1 percent.

Let’s hope that proves true this year. Funding problems plagued some major players even before the latest round of bad economic news, bringing down Arts Day and the Reading Festival and shaking up the Sarasota Film Festival.

But others are prospering. As you’ll read in Leslie Glass’s “Social Detective” this month, the Hermitage artists’ colony on Manasota Key has just received a major grant that will result in annual Sarasota world premieres of new works, and the Sarasota Orchestra (formerly the Florida West Coast Symphony) is launching dynamic new programming aimed at younger audiences. And Sarasota Opera, after expanding its Opera House last year, is now expanding its season, presenting The Barber of Seville this month.

Our arts editor Kay Kipling did her part to keep Sarasota’s cultural economy humming, searching out 31 excellent reasons for you to buy tickets this year. Her annual season’s preview wrap-up (page 82) highlights the must-see shows and stars of the 2008-2009 season; she talked to artistic directors, actors, choreographers and other insiders to make her picks, which are helpfully grouped according to your interests. (Are you a lover of the classics or drawn to the new and edgy?) 

Art doesn’t only happen on Sarasota stages and museum walls; we like to think it comes to life on our pages as well, and that’s certainly true this month. Our senior editor Robert Plunket, recently called one of the best humorists of our times by the Washington Post, is writing a new mystery series that debuts in this issue. Florida is famous for detective fiction, and the master of the genre was Sarasota’s own late John D. MacDonald, who inspired Bob’s writing even before they became friends. Now Bob has joined the mystery tradition; and believe me, he brings something altogether new to the genre.

Decorating Can Be Murder stars Mr. Timothy Spryke, a retired Wisconsin high school teacher who opens a decorating business in Sarasota and soon finds himself solving crimes as well. After just one episode, I am in love; fussy and  pedantic, Spryke is as human and touching as he is comic, and it’s great fun to see Sarasota, from the Woman’s Exchange to the giant tooth on the bayfront, through his eccentric eyes. I was lucky enough to sit in with Bob and illustrator Michael White while they dreamed up the look of the series. It was a lesson in artistic creation, watching them delve through piles of old novels and decorating books as they analyzed Spryke with as much seriousness and passion as if he were a real-life person.

But meet him yourself, on page 106.

We plan to run Bob’s series both in upcoming issues of the magazine and online, at sarasotamagazine.com, where Spryke and his firm, Casual Elegance, will soon have their own Web pages with everything from decorating advice (you can write in with your questions) to sketches, swatches and paint samples from his latest projects. (Look for some of those to become clues in his crime-solving endeavors.) We’re even hosting special events for his fans.

We’re welcoming another Sarasota talent to this issue. David Grimes, long beloved for his wickedly funny columns in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, has left the newspaper and is writing for us. His new weekly blog, Father Grimes, has already been a hit on our Web site, and we predict even non golf-lovers will enjoy his new golf column, The Par Side, in which he reviews a different local course every month.

And finally, our art director, Jeanette Bakowski, has worked some creative magic of her own. A serial magazine buyer who is also inspired by, of all things, fashion Web sites, which she scrutinizes for their verve and color, Jeanette began her career in package design, working with Kodak and other industrial giants. She’s been with us for eight years, earning all sorts of design awards along the way; and this summer, she decided it was time to modernize and energize the magazine. You’ll notice more breathing room on our pages, with updated type faces, elegant white space, and bigger pictures that pop. “Sarasota is getting more progressive, and we needed to reflect that,” says Jeanette, who also wanted to give you a more “cohesive” publication from front to back.

We love what she’s done and hope you do, too. As always, I welcome your letters and comments; you can reach me at pamd@sarasotamagazine.com.

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