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Ringling Festival returns, will include Manatee

SARASOTA — It’s official: The Ringling International Arts Festival will return this year.

Mark your calendars for Oct. 13-17.

From the start of last year’s inaugural festival, Dwight Currie, Ringling Museum of Art’s associate director for museum programs, said, “It didn’t seem to me we could do anything but have it right away again.”

This time around the festival will not only boast more cutting-edge, world-renowned programming, but it will highlight what local arts organizations, including those in Manatee, have to offer.

Realize Bradenton executive director Johnette Isham said plans are in the works for Manatee-based activities to be held before, during and after the festival.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase our cultural assets,” she said.

Main stage programming, which will be provided again by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s New York-based Baryshnikov Arts Center, will be announced March 5, Currie said. The lineup is expected to feature several world premieres in music, theater and dance.

Currie is scheduled to meet today with area cultural and arts groups, including Realize Bradenton and the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. These groups have already met once with their counterparts — the Sarasota County Arts Council and the Manatee County Cultural Alliance, aka the Arts Council of Manatee County — concerning ideas on what talent they can bring to the festival table.

“There’s lots of good ideas, lots of good visions, lots of positive energy,” Currie said.

Getting local groups involved is the only way to make the festival grow, he added. With more going on outside of the main stages, the event will draw more people.

Isham said the event’s brand name — Ringling International Arts Festival — will also include a tag line that will include the names of Bradenton and Sarasota to help further highlight both cities.

Carl Keeler, gallery director at the Arts Council of Manatee County, is looking forward to the extra attention.

“Manatee County has a lot to offer that people don’t realize,” he said.

Local governments helping

Part of the funding for this year’s festival will be provided by local governments.

According to previous Herald reports, the Manatee and Sarasota county commissions each contributed $250,000. Manatee’s portion will come from the tourist tax fund and economic development accounts. The City of Sarasota also has promised $100,000.

Last year’s festival ended with $500,000 in the bank, but more funding was needed to ensure contracts for this year’s event, Currie told the Herald last year.

To give the event a solid financial base and take the burden off local governments, festival organizers are planning to launch a campaign to raise money from individual donors.

“Because right now we need to start planning for 2011,” Currie said.

A successful first year

The festival was originally slated to run every other year, but late last year, festival officials sought local government help to bring the successful festival back a year early.

Organizers said the inaugural event had an economic impact of more than $1.5 million, generated 50 full-time temporary jobs that brought in nearly $1.4 million in local household income, and flooded the area with in-state and out-of-state tourism.

A theater capacity of 92 percent blitzed organizers’ expectations last year, too.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.