Sarasota Unwraps Its First Contemporary Art Museum

Longboat Key, Florida | December 17th, 2019 The celebration of arts in Sarasota, one of the joys of living in the county, got even livelier with the opening of its first contemporary art museum this December. This new Sarasota attraction is housed in the old but iconic building formerly used for classrooms of the adjacent Sarasota High School. Now called the Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College, the building sits on the block of 1001 South Tamiami Trail. The historic residential neighborhood of Avondale is just across the west of the new museum.


A Gem from Design Moguls


The old high school building is very much part of the cornerstones that helped build up Sarasota as the Cultural Coast of Florida. The building was constructed in 1926, designed in the Collegiate Gothic style by renowned Tampa architect Malachi Leo Elliot. In 1959, the building underwent a makeover, integrating the design of Paul Rudolph, one of the pillars of the Sarasota School of Architecture also seen today in many local residences. 


The multi-awarded Lawson Group Architects led the adaptive-reuse project for this architectural gem to be converted into a museum. Notably, the Lawson Group takes credit for the design of many standout local contemporary buildings including some in downtown Sarasota. A project spending of about $30 million was committed for the Sarasota Art Museum, now affectionately known as SAM. The museum campus features about 80,000 square feet, with 15,000 square feet devoted to exhibitions.


Changing Art Exhibits


Unlike most museums, SAM isn’t a house for permanent collections or exhibits. Its only permanent art piece is a mural that adorns the building’s stairwells up to the third floor. This colorful wall painting was rendered by noted San Francisco-based artist Leah Rosenberg. The concept of the museum calls for its hosting of touring, temporary exhibits of contemporary art. Generally, each exhibit will be displayed for four or five months. With this setup, SAM will keep visitors coming back and draw new ones as well. Aside from its exhibit areas, SAM’s campus has a plaza that now serves as an entry area. This plaza is also envisioned as a future venue for cultural activities like concert performances and outdoor film screenings.

Currently, the museum features the works of various artists spanning from post-World War II to the present. These inaugural exhibits include the works of the 20th century African American abstract artist Norman Lewis.  Also one of the features is a major retrospective from the artworks of Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz. 

In addition to the art exhibits, the SAM campus took in September the headquarters for Ringling College’s extensive schedule of continuing education and lifelong learning classes. 

The museum offers various types of memberships that start at $65 for a solo member. Members gain free entrance to the new museum plus invitation to previews and 10 percent discount on SAM’s store and café. 

Admission is also free for Ringling College students, faculty and staff; Cross College Alliance students; veterans and active military; public and life safety officers; and children 17 and younger accompanied by an adult. Others pay $15 as a museum entrance fee.


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