| Guest columnist
I have the honor of serving as chairman of the board of the Van Wezel Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization established 33 years ago to provide philanthropic support to the city-owned Van Wezel Hall. Central to our mission is underwriting arts education programs delivered throughout the region.
This past year, through our donors’ generosity, the foundation provided funding for arts education initiatives that touched the lives of 35,000 students, educators and families across Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.
The Van Wezel Foundation remains committed to meeting the community’s evolving needs by expanding its mission to create a world-class performing arts center that enriches the community, supports arts education, and inspires young minds. The foundation is leading a bold vision to build a new state-of-the-art performing arts center with the city of Sarasota, as a central part of the 53-acre Bay Park master plan approved by the City Commission.
The arts are essential to our quality of life. With 12 months of programming planned and an education center to promote lifelong learning, we envision serving twice as many students, educators and families as we do today. This expanded mission-based programming will further secure the new, accessible performing arts center as a preeminent destination for the arts along the Gulf Coast.
The new performing arts center will also play a significant role in our city’s economic growth and recovery post-pandemic. In addition, the Sarasota Performing Arts Center will create thousands of planning and construction jobs over the next five to seven years during the design and construction phases, and increase employment in the creative field through the operation of a multifaceted 230,000-square-foot venue.
As the foundation moves forward with its planning, we have partnered with a national consumer research firm to launch an anonymous regional survey to gather public input for the new performing arts center. I encourage you to share your ideas and take the survey by Nov. 30 at MySarasotaPerformingArtsCenter.org.
We have a unique opportunity to build a new, contemporary performing arts center as a national model that will stimulate new sources of revenue and investment in underserved communities, and accelerate the growth of diversity in economic and artistic areas, essential to our community’s prosperity. I am personally excited to be a part of this legacy project that will positively impact generations to come.
The future is now, and I invite you to join us in advancing this once-in-a-century vision.
Jim Travers is a senior technology executive who built high-growth technology companies during his 35-year career. He served as a member of the foundation’s Strategic Planning Committee for three years and became chairman in 2019.