"Sarasota is known around the world for its arts scene," Carson Cooper said. "Can Bradenton and Manatee County become a destination for the arts?"
Even if you don't recognize Cooper's name, you probably know his voice. He's been the local host of NPR's local "Morning Edition" for 15 years and the host of WUSF 89.7's "Florida Matters" since 2009.
This month, "Florida Matters" aired a half-hour look at the arts in Bradenton and Manatee County. The report consisted mostly of highlights from presentations that local arts leaders made to the Manatee Tiger Bay Club during its August meeting.
People who pay attention to the arts in this area probably weren't surprised by anything they heard from the meeting, which included representatives from the Manatee Performing Arts Center, the Village of the Arts, the South Florida Museum and the Pops Orchestra.
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But people from outside the area who heard the overview of arts offerings were likely bowled over by what's going on here.
Sarasota has always been considered the city of the arts. Bradenton has been considered just up the road from the arts. But if that reputation was ever accurate, it certainly isn't anymore.
Six years ago, when Robyn Bell had been living in Bradenton for a few months, someone asked her what she thought the difference between Bradenton and Sarasota was.
"At that time I said, 'You know, I see Sarasota as cultural and Bradenton as agricultural," Bell recalled at the Tiger Bay meeting.
Bell is the director of instrumental studies at State College of Florida and the director of the Pops Orchestra of Bradenton and Sarasota -- Bradenton gets first billing now -- which until last year was called the Sarasota Pops Orchestra.
Bell said her orchestra now draws more people for its Bradenton concerts than its Sarasota ones, and she said there's a "remarkable energy" for the concerts here that is lacking in Sarasota.
And she pointed out that Manatee County is home to a surprising number of quality groups that perform art music, including the Anna Maria Island Community Chorus and Orchestra, the Bay Chorale, the Manatee Community Concert Band and the Gulf Coast Flute Choir.
Still, Bell pointed out, the Bradenton Area Economic Development website states that "Less than a 20-minute drive south from downtown Bradenton is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the state art museum of Florida; an opera company, a ballet company, and a symphony orchestra, as well as numerous galleries and theater companies."
Bell isn't the only arts leader who thinks that Manatee County should be touting its own arts, not those in Sarasota.
"I don't think we've ever been 20 minutes away from the arts," said Janene Amick, executive director of the Manatee Performing Arts Center. "We've always had first-class art and culture opportunities here, for 70 years.
"It's just been our little secret," she said, "and now the secret's starting to get out."
Meanwhile, Bell's Pops Orchestra has just announced its 40th season. It kicks off with "A Christmas Carol -- The Concert," which features actors with the orchestra in a new version of the classic holiday story (Dec. 12-13, Neel Performing Arts Center); a celebration of Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday with New York-based crooner and jazz stylist Cole Rumbough (Feb. 21, 3 p.m., Riverview Performing Arts Center, and Feb. 22 Neel Performing Arts Center); A youth-themed concert "It Takes a Village" featuring some of the best high school musicians in the area (April 10, Riverview Performing Arts Center and April 11 at Neel Performing Arts Center); and "Pops 'til It Drops," a New Year's Eve Party 7 p.m. - midnight Dec. 31 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
Call 941-926-7677 or go tothepopsorchestra.org for information.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.