Editor's Note: The Community Foundation of Sarasota County is pleased to help share stories of the important work undertaken by our nonprofit grantees. Sharing stories of impact helps the community understand the needs of our region and encourages a community-wide culture of philanthropy. This story was shared by the Hermitage Artist Retreat (Artistic Director and CEO: Andy Sandberg).
Over the past year, the Hermitage Artist Retreat has made it a priority to provide a safe and inspiring space to create for diverse leading artists from across the globe, spanning theater, music, literature, visual art, and more.
As we resumed our live programming in the fall of 2020, the Hermitage became one of the nation’s most early adapters to offer a safe new model for live events and performances during the pandemic. Since October, the Hermitage has safely and successfully presented over fifty unique in-person events on our beachfront campus and at venues throughout Sarasota County, in addition to a myriad of virtual programs. We have partnered with dozens of arts and cultural institutions on new and exciting collaborations, live programs, virtual experiences, and education initiatives.
By doing this, we’ve been able to give artists hope in this challenging time, and to provide audiences with a rare and empowering opportunity to connect with extraordinary musicians, playwrights, visual artists, writers, and teaching artists.
What we offer to the community is a unique look into the creative process and early development of works by notable artists from around the world.
This past year, we knew it was essential to provide both artists and audiences a way to gather. It has been an emotional and inspiring experience for these artists to be outdoors in front of a live audience for the first time, and our community has been particularly appreciative of these experiences. Artists and audiences alike have noted that the opportunities and programs the Hermitage provided over this past year have been a lifeline, an escape from the pandemic, and a highlight of the past year.
One of the most joyful memories of this past season was the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize, presented this year to playwright Aleshea Harris, and generously sponsored by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. With our celebration cancelled on short notice in 2020, we knew the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize festivities needed to be particularly special.
Aleshea Harris, Hermitage Greenfield Prize recipient (2021).
This year’s Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration featured an unprecedented six events, including presentations from three Hermitage Greenfield Prize recipients – Martyna Majok (2018), Helga Davis (2019), and Aleshea Harris (2021). We decided to offer both a live in-person Prize Dinner, as well as a Virtual Celebration for those who were unable to join us in person.
In addition to honoring the brilliant Aleshea Harris, we wanted to celebrate the impact and legacy of this extraordinary prize, established thirteen years ago with generous support and partnership from the Greenfield Foundation. To that end, we asked all previous winners of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize – innovative and groundbreaking artists spanning the disciplines of music, theater, and visual art – to participate in a tribute video recognizing the truly transformative impact of this prize. Along with past jurors and presenting partners, these artists spoke about this prize and how their experience at the Hermitage made a lasting impact on their careers, their artistry, and their lives. Watch the video here (password: 2021HGP).
Hear from all previous winners of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize, as well as past jurors and presenting partners, in this tribute video celebrating thirteen years of artists, impact, and legacy. Watch here (password: 2021HGP).
Of course, after a year where not a single one of our events was delayed or cancelled due to weather, the rain decided to join us just in time for this year’s Hermitage Greenfield Prize festivities. As Aleshea Harris spoke about her work on the Hermitage campus, she interrupted one of her own thoughts and turned to Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg: “It’s about to rain!” It turns out she is as ahead-of-the-curve as a weather forecaster as she is a playwright. From the moment the skies opened up on Saturday evening, it seemed as if it might never stop.
On Sunday morning, the Hermitage team made the game-day decision to move its event from The Ringling Museum’s outdoor venue to the ballroom at Michael’s On East – the show must go on. This was to be our first indoor event of the season, so we went from being one of the first organizations to resume live outdoor programming in the fall to one of the first to present a safe and socially-distanced indoor event of this nature. The Hermitage team called each and every guest, explaining the change of venue. Just a few weeks earlier, this move indoors might not have been possible, as vaccinations had not been so widely available.
Musicians play at Michael's On East, which The Hermitage Artist Retreat had to quickly turn to due to unexpected weather. The inside venue provided a comfortable space for guests to celebrate Aleshea Harris as the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize recipient.
Thankfully, the evening was a great success. More than 130 guests gathered for the socially-distanced evening.
“Neither rain nor sleet nor any tropical storm was going to stop us from finding a way to celebrate Aleshea Harris as the winner of this year’s Hermitage Greenfield Prize!” noted Sandberg in true show-must-go-on fashion.
“While the change of venue was an unexpected surprise, we were determined to forge ahead with this very special evening of entertainment and celebration. We thank everyone at The Ringling Museum and Michael’s On East for their shared commitment to the safety and comfort of our guests. The adoration, respect, and joy in honor of Aleshea were truly palpable, and we are so grateful to the Greenfield Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and all of our sponsors for their generous support.”
Andy Sandberg presents Aleshea Harris with the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize.
“The evening was full of irrepressible energy and talent,” noted co-chairs Ellen Berman and Flora Major. “Aleshea Harris is a powerful presence, and the crowd was alive with enthusiasm. The whole event was a seamless and stunning success, and the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner has been transformed into one of the most entertaining evenings in town, capturing the true spirit of diversity and talent of the Hermitage and its artists.”
The festive evening commenced with a welcome video from Black Theatre United, featuring the music video “Stand for Change,” with a personal message of welcome and words of congrats to Harris from acclaimed actor and producer Tamara Tunie on behalf of her fellow BTU co-founders: six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Wendell Pierce, and more. In addition to the tribute video featuring remarks from thirteen past Hermitage Greenfield Prize recipients, excerpts from Harris’ work On Sugarland were brought to life on stage by Ive Lyles (WBTT) and Imani Williams (Asolo Conservatory). Following the presentation of the award to Ms. Harris, Sarasota’s own Ann Morrison and Joseph Holt concluded the celebration with Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” “How fitting the metaphor of Sondheim’s lyrics – especially after this year!” exclaimed Morrison.
Aleshea Harris holds the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize.
The Hermitage Greenfield Prize is presented in partnership with the Philadelphia-based Greenfield Foundation. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County served as the lead sponsor for this year’s festivities.
None of this would be possible without the generous support from our community, and all who believe in the Hermitage and its mission.
To learn more about the Hermitage Artist Retreat and the Hermitage Greenfield Prize, visit www.HermitageArtistRetreat.org