History & Achievements

History of Art Center Sarasota


Read Sarasota History Alive  

The Sarasota Art Association was established in 1926 as the first arts organization in Sarasota. Founder Marcia Rader, Art Supervisor of the Sarasota School System, was the driving force behind the initial meetings of local art supporters who formed the association. In the early years, the group met monthly and sponsored exhibits in rented facilities.
     In 1941, the Association incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. At that time, the stated mission was “to promote the educational and cultural advantages of Sarasota in the field of contemporary art." Many renowned local artists like Jerry Farnsworth, Elden Rowland, Syd Solomon and Hilton Leech were instrumental in establishing the center as the focal point for Sarasota's visual arts.

Marcia Rader

  Sidewalk Sale    The City of Sarasota provided the Art Association, with a lease of land near the downtown area and in 1948, after the war, the association broke ground for its present building which was designed in the then-popular style of the Sarasota School of Architecture. The building opened in 1949 with only one gallery which is now known as Gallery 3. 

      The Atrium (Gallery 4) or “Patio Gallery” as it was called was later erected with donations from members and was enclosed in 1961. Several more additions were made to the building adding on the front two galleries, the classroom and the back kitchen and class area. image

      The association's philosophy during the 1960’s, stated that “while the gallery is important to display the works of local artists, one-man shows and traveling exhibitions, there is a social aspect of the association that bears heavy fruit. It is a meeting place for all who are interested in the many phases of art; it is a place to make friends and see what is going on in Sarasota…
This philosophy is still the inherent mission of Art Center Sarasota today.


    image  The 1950's and 60's were a time of great social involvement of the community in the visual arts. The Art Association would hold their famous Beaux Arts Ball eachimage year. A thousand guests would participate in a grand themed costume party at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium. 
    Today, the Art Center has brought back

some of the excitement of the balls by creating the iconcept event in 2009. Local artists create "fashion" from unconventional materials for a grand runway show.  
       In 1996, the Sam and Sally Shapiro Sculpture Garden was imagecreated and recently renovated in 2011. Through the generous support of Sam Shapiro, a past president of Art Center Sarasota, and his wife Sally, the garden wrapping around the front and north side of the Art Center, was designed to provide a beautiful entrance to the Center and to highlight talented sculptors of this community.

      The Sarasota Art Association, in 2000  merged with artist and instructor Hilton Leech’s “Friends of the Arts and Sciences”  and became Art Center Sarasota. An art education program was put into place along with exhibitions.




     In 2011, through a grant from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, the reception area and front galleries were renovated Donor Wallby architect Michael Halfants and his architectural graduate students from USF to provide a better experience for visitors and to include a "Donor Wall" celebrating the founders and major contributors to the Art Center throughout its history.

       In 2013, Art Center Sarasota was honored image
with WEDU's “Be More Enriched” Award, which brought recognition to the many exciting exhibitions that the center provides free of charge to the community.

     image Thanks to generous donors Howard and Betty Isermann, the Art Center was able to finally install new air conditioning in the Atrium Gallery and Gallery 3 to make receptions and events in the center a much more pleasurable experience.

Dedicated donor and Education Volunteer, Elaine Charney gifted the Art Center with funds to completely renovate Gallery 3. The black carpeting was removed and a bright contemporary gallery now stands in its place.

Looking toward the future...
The Art Center Staff and Board of Directors see a very bright cultural future for the Sarasota area with a community art center that provides something for everyone to enjoy.

  • In 2014, with funds given by long-time supporters Bubsy Becker, and the Isermann Family Foundation, the center renovated the back storage room to provide additonal classroom space all year round.
  • The entire building was painted in 2015 thanks to Cary Carlson Painting and the local Benjamin Moore store
  • The Youth Education program is growing with the addition of a dedicated Youth Coordinator and Saturday classes to compliment the Creative Kids Summer program during the school year
  • The Slice of Art program recently received a grant from Designing Women to help fund the outreach program for the schools
  • With a generous gift from Bubsy Becker, the kitchen at the center was completely renovated in 2015
  • New evening programs are being developed in the art education area for those who cannot attend day classes.

Art Center Sarasota is highly recognized by the media and members of the community for its innovative exhibitions, events and educational programs.