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A colony of artists. - Free Online Library

A colony of artists. - Free Online Library

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Published by gutturalcontain68
For much of the country, Sarasota in the post World War II era was defined as a bohemian artists' co
For much of the country, Sarasota in the post World War II era was defined as a bohemian artists' co

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Published by: gutturalcontain68 on Jul 29, 2014
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 A colony of artists. - Free Online Library 
For much of the country, Sarasota in the post World War II era was defined as a bohemian artists'colony on the beach. The place was kind of what Paul Gauguin went looking for in Tahiti, only better--no leprosy or language barrier here. Writers such as MacKinlay Kantor and John D. MacDonaldsocialized with artists like Ben Stahl, Syd Solomon and photographer Joe Steinmetz; and modernarchitects such as Paul Rudolph, Gene Leedy and Jack West built houses and studios for them.Creative spirits both well-known and struggling found kindred souls, inexpensive real estate, theendless summer, and a surrounding citizenry that thought well of them.They live for art and they live with art amid friends and professionals who understand the strugglesand joys of the process. Artists wander in and out of one another's studios, bumping into tourists andlocals who are either browsing or on a specific mission to buy. Interior designers have discoveredTowles Court as a resource, a significant boost for the colony.The painter admits that her confrontational nudes were not welcomed by the buying public here,either. "The art situation was funny when I came to be part of it," she relates. "A lot of very talentedpeople lived here, but they showed their work someplace else. Sarasota was not perceived as a placeto buy serious, expensive art, even though I counted 30 galleries on my first visit. Thankfully, thatattitude is changing. Serious art buyers are discovering fine art here and at last buying it.""My view of the consensus of the residents of Laural Park is that new development is good," he says."We're looking forward to the live/work units in Morrill Court, and we believe that Towles Court hasbeen a great thing for the city. Our reservations are about live/work spaces that end up all work andno live. We're worried about owners who go home to someplace else at night. We'd like to seeTowles and Morrill Court buyers commit to living on the site so that they become a fully functioningpart of the neighborhood with 24-hour-a-day lives here." Currently, about 75 percent of the people inTowles Court fit that work-live definition.In 1995, Kathleen Carrillo was the first artist to rent a gallery at Towles Court from Olivieri. In 1998,she and husband Andy Marcus (a sculptor and poet) built a terra cotta, purple-and-yellow, two-storyhome and studio attached by a deck to the existing art gallery. Carrillo says that in the beginningshe devoted nearly two years to help market Towles Court.Towles Court has a long history, by Sarasota standards. It is named for William B. Towles, who wasborn in Perry, Florida, but spent his business career in Chicago, where he was a Mason and a proudmember of the Sons of the Revolution. In 1907, Bill Towles and his wife Nannie began coming toSarasota in the winter for the fishing and the sun.Prices for Morrill Court houses start at about $285,000. Morrill Court, in turn, has inspired urbanresidential rehab projects on Hawkins Street off Osprey Avenue. The enclave is shady, secluded, and just run-down enough to inspire a viable rescue mission. Devin Rutkowski, who lives in Laurel Park and is a past president of the homeowners' association, is developing two of the eight buildable lotson Hawkins through his company, New Urban Designs. He says the intent is to maintain Hawkins asa period enclave of cottage-style but modernized homes appropriate to the surrounding area."My art was about female empowerment, and the nudes were too confrontational for the localpopulation," she remembers. "One day, I read in a retirement-oriented magazine that a city calledSarasota was going to be the next Carmel-by-the-sea. Since I am originally from California, I knew
what this could mean for artists. I flew down to Sarasota a week later. It was summer. I rented anapartment, went back to Oklahoma, sold my business, packed up and was back in Sarasota ready tostart a new life by November." As for N.J. Olivieri, he says Towles Court is as fulfilling as any project he's ever undertaken. "Once aproject is over, the developer is often seen as the bad guy who was just out for what he could get,"he says. "That never happened with Towles Court. I've stayed connected to the people and to theneighborhood and I have truly loved working with all the artists. I'm a member of the homeownersassociation, because I still have the Arts Center where the restaurant operates and I rent somestudio space. As more artists gravitated to Towles Court, theyformed an association and starting offering summerclasses to children. Most important, they organizedthe successful Art by the Light of the Moon, a seriesof night gallery walks held on the third Friday of each month. Carrillo says tourists and local buyershave been slow to realize what a downtown treasureTowles Court really is; but each season, she chartsimprovement."I didn't sell much of anything until three years into being here," says Carrillo. "I've been teaching atRingling School of Art and Design to support myself. But the last two years have been good. A lot of recent success had to do with us artists figuring out ways to market Towles Court and to promoteourselves effectively."COPYRIGHT 2000 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from thecopyright holder.Towles Court is on the perimeter of downtown Sarasota, bordered by Adams Lane, Links Avenue,Morrill Street and U.S. 301. The compact collection of quirky homes/studios/galleries startedevolving in the early '90s, when N. J. Olivieri, owner of Horizon Mortgage Corporation and HorizonReal Estate & Investment, thought he could convert his admiration for Colonial Williamsburg villageinto urban renewal. You'll recognize Towles Court by the brazen colors of the homes; artist KathleenCarrillo, who helped Olivieri with his initial marketing, convinced him those colors would make iteasier for tourists and art lovers to find the neighborhood."N. J. originally saw the houses as white or some quiet Williamsburg colors," she remembers. "Iconvinced him to go bright and outrageous and to make Towles Court stand out as belonging tocreative people. He gave in and went with the wild colors, which was a leap of faith for him, becausethe man is totally color blind." Metal roofs are another hallmark of all the Towles Court structures. Although artists continue to come to Southwest Florida (many to teach at the Ringling School of Artand Design), neighborhoods devoted exclusively to housing creative people have not been a civicpriority. And offering artists space to work and exhibit where they live was pretty much unheard of.But to the developer and happy residents of Sarasota's new urban art colony, Towles Court is anidea whose time has come--once again.
But neighborhoods near the inner city can have a precarious existence and a tenuous hold onprosperity. As Sarasota's downtown suffered from the development of shopping malls and chic gatedcommunities east and south, Towles Court gradually declined into cramped apartments and laterinto dwellings for migrants. The once bright little cottages became shabby and then downrightunsightly, hitting their nadir in the late '70s."It was difficult in the beginning," he continues, "but we proved Towles Court could be a good touristattractor and an asset to the city. We snatched a slum and turned it into art. I feel really good aboutthat."N. J. Olivieri considered the possibilities and reworked his plan, from Williamsburg village tosomething more like Sausalito or SoHo. Mixed use was allowed under the neighborhood's CRT(commercial/residential/transition) zoning, though Olivieri says he nonetheless spent a tortuous yearand a half dealing with the city on zoning issues. Jim Wade of Century Bank was enthusiastic aboutthe idea of an artists' colony and provided backing, as did Sarasota attorney David Band's lendinggroup.The Sarasota Collection deals in upscale decorative bed linens and exotic fabrics, while atNakupenda, artist Vicki Cleaver works in semi-precious stones and Bali silver. Par Gawle, who ownsThe Plum Door, produces whimsical paintings and furniture pieces that sell extremely well. Sheoffers furniture workshops to the public. In all, more than two dozen artists and arts-relatedpractitioners are housecleaning, making meals, raking care of families, paying taxes, and at thesame time, following their individual artistic muses.In December 1995, the first tenant signed a lease. The first residential/commercial units wereoffered for sale starting at $65,000; the first sale was in December 1996. Olivieri knew he had to beflexible and offer creative financing. "That means I ended up with a lot of art," he laughs. "Whichwas fine. I would take a painting or piece of sculpture instead of rent when I leased to an artist justgetting started. We had faith in each other, and I wanted Towles Court to work as much as theartists did." Art Sweeney from New Hampshire was the first artist to lease space with an option tobuy. He moved in.Carrillo probably speaks for most Towles Court residents when she enumerates the benefits of livingin an artists' colony. Artists have low overhead, since they live, work and exhibit in the same place. Additionally, they can pool resources for advertising and for projects such as the summer campinstruction and the gallery walks. Also, the neighborhood is composed of likeminded people whoknow one another and look out for one another's galleries. Best of all, property values in TowlesCourt and the immediate surrounding streets are escalating. Recently, a lot in Towles Court sold for$120,000. "That's just for the dirt," Carrillo says happily. She believes her property is worth aminimum of $350,000.Today Towles Court sparks with enough artistic energy to make any colony of creative people proud.Kathleen Home runs expressive arts therapy sessions while Skip Dyrda does murals and artaccessories. Claudia Porter advances abstract expressionism, while over at Mango Tree Artworks,George Lowery makes authentic ship models that sell for up to $20,000. His wife, Marcelline, is atropically inspired painter and current president of the Towles Court Association.The issue of retail space in Towles Court and who gets to have it is also of concern to thehomeowners association of Laurel Park, a residential neighborhood along Osprey Avenue, OhioPlace, Laurel Street, and part of Morrill Street.

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