Art districts in and near Sarasota County
Arts enthusiasts are in luck: It does not take much digging to immerse oneself in Sarasota County's dynamic arts scene. At a glance, world-class performing arts venues and art galleries such as the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the Ringling Museum of Art beckon along the main route through town, Tamiami Trail, and dominate the results in search engine queries about the Sarasota art scene.
However, beneath the surface exists a lesser-known, but equally vibrant layer of local art and culture that is tucked away in the hidden-gem arts districts dappled throughout the region. Downtown Sarasota, Venice and Englewood are each home to unique communities of working artists and gallery owners who have developed robust pockets of local art, nestled just off the beaten path.
Towles Court and the Historic Downtown Village in Sarasota, Englewood's historic Dearborn Street, and Bradenton's Village of the Arts, located in neighboring Manatee County, are among the best-kept art secrets in the region. Join us for a look at what these local treasures, hidden just beneath the glittering surface of Florida's Cultural Coast, have to offer.
The charming century-old cottages and bungalows of downtown Sarasota's Towles Court were originally occupied by a newly-emerging class of Sarasota County professionals who flocked south and built much of the city we know today during the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s. Over the course of the following decades, the neighborhood experienced the fickle ebb and flow of economic prosperity as the city of Sarasota rose around it, and by the 1980s, Towles Court was all but forgotten in the shadow of surrounding high rise developments, shopping malls and gated communities.
Today, however, the Towles Court neighborhood flourishes once more as Sarasota's first planned artists' colony, officially established in 1995. Intimate artists' studios, eclectic galleries, vogue salons, and award-winning restaurants occupy the Craftsman style bungalows and old Florida cottages nestled in the shade of moss-shawled Spanish oaks.
More than a dozen photography, painting and graphic design studios, art therapy studios, and retail spaces that vary from formal galleries to quaint gift shops speckle the Towles Court neighborhood, offering a taste of variety that ranges from high-end visual art to whimsical folk art in this all-embracing artist colony.
Typical business hours in the Towles Court artist colony run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, but it's the community's Third Friday Art Walks that draw the biggest crowds. Every third Friday of the month, Towles Court businesses extend their hours into the twilight hours, providing refreshments and live music in an open-house setting. This free, family-friendly event takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. monthly and is the perfect time to experience the intimate charms of Sarasota's longest-surviving and thriving artist colony.
The Historic Downtown Village of Sarasota
A short, ten minute walk from Towles Court leads to the Historic Downtown Village of Sarasota, a newly-established arts and eats district in the historic Gillespie Park neighborhood. Much like Towles Court, many of the businesses in the Historic Downtown Village occupy renovated 1920s cottages and bungalows.
Until recently, these bungalows languished for decades as oft-neglected rental properties that bordered the outer edge of Gillespie Park. A neighborhood revival took place in 2013, when several of the properties were renovated to become commercial spaces, hailing the emergence of a new generation of art galleries, restaurants and creative spaces--and the birth of the Historic Downtown Village, Sarasota's newest up-and-coming local artist hangout.
The Historic Downtown Village is home to unique art and interior design galleries, a sophisticated European-inspired consignment shop, a crystal, stone and jewelry shop, and a painting and pottery studio. The neighborhood Breakfast House, which features award-winning pancakes, is conveniently located a stone's throw from the village sushi joint in one direction, and the mouthwatering sweets at the Cookie Cottage bakery in the other.
Local artists, musicians and writers can often be found grabbing tea or hanging out in the shops and galleries of the Downtown Historical Village, where most of the retail spaces operate during 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. On the last Friday of each month, the Historical Downtown Village hosts its Fourth Friday event, which features an ever-evolving rotation of entertainment, including live music, refreshments, climbing walls, intuitive readings, interactive art installations and more.
Olde Englewood Village
The city of Sarasota is not the only area in Sarasota County where hidden pockets of local art and cultural gems glisten. At the southern tip of the county, the charming waterside town of Englewood is home to an eclectic array of arts and old Florida culture.
The district known as the Olde Englewood Village on West Dearborn Street is home to open art studios, galleries, restaurants, and the historic Lemon Bay Playhouse. At the hip Mango Bistro, a weekly rotation of live music including jazz, bluegrass, flamenco and more exemplifies the diversity local arts community.
Every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Olde Englewood Village hosts a weekly farmer's market featuring Florida-grown local produce, Florida-caught seafood, a market butcher, artisan bakeries, local olive oils, teas, spices, art and more. The village also hosts a monthly Saturday Nite Live Art Walk event from 6 to 9 p.m. every second Saturday of the month.
A short drive from the Olde Englewood Village, the Hermitage Artist Retreat is another hidden art treasure in Sarasota County. The Hermitage is a live-work space for high-caliber visual artists, writers, musicians and performers nestled in a bayside haven on Manasota Key. The nonprofit organization's National Artist Advisory Committee selects and invites internationally-renowned artists to visit the creative retreat, providing seclusion for them to work on their next masterpiece in exchange for public programming with the local community during their stay. The resulting synthesis between artists and the community takes place in one of a kind, free-to-the-public, regularly-scheduled readings, performances and other events that take place at the Hermitage Retreat.
Although it may not have the type of designated "arts districts" found in its neighbors to the north and south, the city of Venice is a key player in Sarasota County's thriving arts and culture scene.
The Venice Art Center, which includes one main gallery and four satellite galleries, is one of the most robust art centers in the county, with a regularly-rotating schedule of exhibitions that is refreshed approximately every three weeks. At the Venice Art Center, a broad collection of created art by locallyand nationally-recognized artists lines the gallery space, while several classroom studios provide instruction space for multiple artistic mediums and styles.
Venice is also the home of the Clyde Butcher Gallery, a definitive collection of stunning landscape photographs that illuminate the truest "off the beaten path" treasures of Florida -- primarily, the landscapes of the Florida Everglades.
The Sarasota Chalk Festival, one of the most celebrated street art festivals in the United States, hosts an annual festival for the first time in Venice this November. This event, which draws top talent from around the world, is expected to solidify Venice's essential role as a key player the future of Sarasota County's ever-growing and evolving international arts community.
Bradenton's Village of the Arts
The Village of the Arts in Bradenton, located approximately fifteen minutes north of the Sarasota County line, is the largest artist colony in the state of Florida, and as such is worthy of a visit from any art aficionado looking to soak in the art scene on Florida's Cultural Coast.
Established in 1999, the Village of the Arts is a live-work neighborhood designated for artists in downtown Bradenton, near the southern end of Manatee County. The Village of the Arts is currently home to approximately 35 locally owned-and-operated businesses, including artist studios, galleries, retail spaces, restaurants, a small publishing company, and a yoga studio. Like Towles Court and the Historical Downtown Village in Sarasota, the majority of businesses in Bradenton's Village of the Arts occupy historic residential spaces dating back to the 1920s and 1930s.
Dig Into the Art Scene, Discover Hidden Treasure
Don't just take our word for it.
Of course we're not suggesting that you skip the Van Wezel or the Ringling entirely, simply because they're so accessible--but we promise, they're not going anywhere. So next time the art-exploration bug bites, dig a little deeper and do some exploring in uncharted artistic territory.
Hidden are gems are everywhere in Sarasota, from Towles Court to Dearborn Street and scattered throughout neighboring towns. You never know what treasure you'll unearth until you begin your exploration!