The Inspiration for UNSCRIPTED: Arts from the Inside Out

Categories: BELONGING AND CULTURE: Cultural Development & the Arts, Nonprofits,

Editor's Note: Cheryl Mendelson is CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation and Andy Sandberg is Artistic Director and CEO of The Hermitage Artist Retreat.

A few months ago, Roxie Jerde, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, introduced us. We were both new in our respective roles and were looking to forge new partnerships in Sarasota that would propel our missions and organizations forward. When we met, Roxie’s directive to us was simple: you two should know each other. Fortunately, we listened.


An Artsy CEO Duo (From Right to Left): Cheryl Mendelson, CEO, Van Wezel Foundation; Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO, The Hermitage Artist Retreat.

UNSCRIPTED: From Concept to Creative Collaboration

The idea for UNSCRIPTED sparked during our first meeting. What was intended as a brief meet-and-greet turned into a three-hour brainstorm session about the tremendous future for this community's vibrant arts scene.

We talked about the idea of an intimate, off-script series to take our audiences on an insider's journey of the artistic process utilizing the creativity of renowned artists, writers, musicians, composers, choreographers, visual artists and other Hermitage Fellows.

In the spirit of the series name, we agreed there is no single venue or stage, and every experience will take place in various forms and locations, whether it be a virtual zoom room, on the Hermitage beachfront, in an artist’s studio or even in a private living room. Thus, “UNSCRIPTED: Arts from the Inside Out” was born.

An Unexpected Partnership

Though the Hermitage Artist Retreat and the Van Wezel Foundation may not seem like obvious collaborators, we recognized the wealth of possibilities and the potential for a meaningful partnership. The collaboration between our two organizations exemplifies a shared passion for the arts in Sarasota County, a community where great works and extraordinary artists can take the unpredictable journey from conception and incubation to full-scale production and presentation.

We never imagined that a few months after our initial meeting, we would experience a global pandemic. Despite the overwhelming challenges, what emerged was a tremendous generosity of spirit, resilience and an essential need for the arts to inspire the power of the human spirit for our community. COVID-19 forced us to reimagine what this collaboration might look like, and our respective teams worked collectively to make our first UNSCRIPTED experience possible in a virtual living room.

An Inaugural Success!

Determining what artist would kick off this exciting new series was a critical decision for us. We knew it needed to be an artist who shared our passion for audience engagement and creativity. Claire Chase, a Hermitage Fellow who recently became a member of the Hermitage's distinguished Curatorial Council, was the clear choice. Claire is a world-renowned flutist, Avery Fisher Prize recipient and MacArthur "Genius" Fellow. We were truly honored that she agreed to launch our series and share her artistic expression with our audience. We could not have imagined a more perfect artist for the inaugural UNSCRIPTED experience.

In a fast-paced 45-minute experience, guests “in the room where it happened” had the opportunity to hear Claire play an excerpt from her piece, PAN, and to ask real-time questions about her artistic process — directly from her living room to ours.


Claire Chase, a Hermitage Fellow who recently became a member of the Hermitage's distinguished Curatorial Council, launches UNSCRIPTED series with her pan flute.

A Unique Take on Audience Participation

One of the unique attributes of UNSCRIPTED is that the audience is invited to help shape the experience. Throughout the performance, our audience used the chat feature to rave about Claire’s performance and engage directly with this extraordinary artist and the intimate experience they shared together that evening. As the series evolves, we aim to find new ways to bring the audience into this process of creation and exploration.

Another essential element of this program is trust. We ask our invited guests – some of our nearest and dearest supporters and colleagues – to trust our two organizations to put together a program that will be both engaging and elevating. We may not always announce the artist(s) ahead of time, but instead are asking our audiences to come for an unexpected ‘arts experience,’ knowing they may not always have all the details before they arrive.

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is known for its pioneering artists, high-caliber creativity, and commitment to the creative process. The Van Wezel Foundation is extending its mission deeper into the community to build forward-thinking partnerships in anticipation of the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center. That is the beauty of our collaboration – we can shape unexpected and unscripted ideas about the arts together.

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