Next week, there is an exciting matchmaking of arts professionals and cultural organizations taking place that while small, is a huge opportunity for our community. Some 35 college students pursuing leadership and management roles within the arts are interviewing to be part of the inaugural class of a national internship program that pairs undergraduate students from backgrounds underrepresented in arts leadership with museums, theaters, and other artistic entities.
The matchmakers from Americans for the Arts will select five emerging leaders to spend 10 weeks this summer in Sarasota as our area joins Nashville, Boston, Raleigh, North Carolina, New Jersey, and New York City as part of its DIAL (Diversity in Arts Leadership) internship program. We will not know until the end of March who the interns will be, or which of our local organizations they’ll be paired with, but the entire story of how Sarasota came to be a host city for this prestigious program to support sustainability among local arts organizations is equally of interest.
It began with a single person’s idea, of course, and then found a home with a unique-to-Sarasota collaboration – the Cross College Alliance.
In early 2021, arts patron and Community Foundation donor Flora Major approached the Community Foundation to see if there was a way to connect DIAL to Sarasota. Flora was a supporter of the program in another part of the country and interested in long-term ways to grow opportunities for our local arts community while building careers of professional arts leaders.
At the same time, our Community Foundation was exploring how to help with the long-term sustainability of the arts and cultural institutions that make our community so unique – especially coming out of the pandemic. The data we were sifting through with our new Knowledge & Equity department showed that despite dramatic growth in our state and region (where the arts are often a persuasive reason to visit and work here), state public funding for this sector peaked in 2014-2015.
Our philanthropic community is incredibly supportive of arts and culture organizations, which includes historical societies, visual arts, performing arts, and supporting arts organizations. This support is often financial, but also much personal time is invested by volunteers. Thanks to updates in The Giving Partner from 127 nonprofits that identify primarily as Arts, Culture & Humanities-focused, we know that last year 15,660 volunteers participated in this sector across Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties. These same organizations employ 785 full-time employees, and 697 part-time employees.
DIAL, with its focus on career development, shined a spotlight on an opportunity to unite career development with an industry that is so vital to our community. A small group of our passionate donors, along with our Community Foundation came together to sponsor the paid internship program, and to identify an entity that could bridge arts, education, and career and economic development to administer it. Luckily, our community had already established the Cross College Alliance, and thanks to our Community Foundation donors supporting a science and environment internship program, this coalition had the expertise and connections to operationalize DIAL.
And that brings us to this month’s matchmaking interviews. Of the 35 potential candidates, 21 are from within our community, attending State College of Florida, New College, and Ringling College of Art and Design. These students chose to apply to stay here in Sarasota this summer, rather than the other DIAL sites, and for that we should be so proud. These students see Sarasota as not only a rich artistic community, but one where they have opportunities to build not only their own careers, but our community’s future. Matchmaking doesn’t get any better than that.
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