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The Ringling School of Art and Design.

The Ringling School of Art and Design

For nearly 60 years, the Ringling School of Art and Design has stood as an educational and cultural cornerstone in a community that prides itself on its relationship with the arts.

The building that houses the school was opened as the Bay Haven Hotel in time for the winter season of 1926. With 70 outside rooms, a dozen groundfloor shops and "one of the most pretentious and beautiful lobbies in Florida," the hotel was advertised as "home-like in atmosphere and particularly pleasing to tourists." The ad explained that builder C.V. Coleman had set the room rates at $2 to $3 a day, year-round, as he was "more anxious to make friends for the hotel than to make money."

And in a few years, there was little money to be made. The real estate bust and the Great Depression had arrived, and the hotel sat vacant and for sale.

Its proximity to the Ringling Art Museum -- and its bargain price -- appealed to John Ringling, who was interested in starting an art school. Dr. Ludd Spivey, president of Southern College, and Verman Kimbrough, who would preside over the school until 1971, teamed up with Ringling, who purchased the hotel for taxes and insurance payments. Ringling raised the $45,000 necessary for renovations, and The School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Mable Art Museum became a reality.

On October 2, 1931, in the courtyard of the museum, 3,000 proud Sarasotans gathered to "mark a new epoch in the cultural history of the South." Speeches were made by United States Sen. Duncan Fletcher, Bishop Moore of Texas, local dignitaries and John Ringling, who turned his magnificent museum with millions of dollars worth of paintings over to the new school.

By the second year, the enrollment had climbed to 124 students taking art courses and 141 in the junior college. The school also managed to field a basketball team, known, naturally, as The Painters.

But the liaison with Southern College ended in 1933, and while the school gained its independence, it also faced some rough years. Enrollment dropped, salaries were cut to the bone and staff had to move into the dorms in order to make ends meet. By 1937, the crisis passed. Thanks to the skill of Dr. Kimbrough and the sacrifices of the faculty, the school was again on solid ground. The junior college and music courses were eliminated and the school adopted "a philosophy to teach very basic art fundamentals in order to give a strong basis for becoming exceptionally talented professional artists." As the school brochures noted, "No finer place can be found in the world for the study of art than Sarasota."

Always active in civic affairs, Dr. Kimbrough was elected mayor of Sarasota in 1938. During his 40-year tenure as president of the school, the school-sponsored Beaux Art Ball became one of Sarasota's most popular social events, and fashion shows to raise funds for the school were held at the Florida Theater. Today, under president Arland Christ-Janer, the community interaction continues, with art shows, community classes, a summer camp for kids and the annual polo match and party.

The old Bay Haven Hotel is still in use and a visible reminder of the school's roots, but the campus now covers 30 acres, has 14 buildings and serves over 500 students. Courses have been updated and all the requirements necessary to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in five disciplines are available.

The future of the school is secure. As John Ringling intoned on that October day so many years ago, "For Though Life is Short, Art is Long."

PHOTO : Bay Haven Hotel (now the Ringling School) in the mid-'20s.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sarasota, Florida
Author:LaHurd, Jeff
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:624
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