Back in 2015, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall celebrated 45 years of providing dependable art and entertainment to the Sarasota community. Known as the “Purple Lady,” the performing arts hall began construction in 1968 and later opened its doors on January 5th, 1970 with a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Since then, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has provided entertaining productions in addition to providing a living space for Sarasota arts organizations and international touring talents. Renowned artists such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Leonard Bernstein, to name a few, have performed on the performing arts hall’s distinct stage. Performances like these continuously captivated audiences since the performing arts hall’s opening and continue to charm audiences today. In 2015, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall hosted Ringo Starr & His All-Star band and they proceeded to play for over two hours to a sold-out crowd. Today, the performance arts hall continues to host artists who have secured ultra-stardom like The Beach Boys, Steve Martin, and Martin Short. In an interview published on March 5th, 2015 by Nick Reichert of the East County Observer, Monica Van Buskirk discussed the Van Wezel Performance Arts Hall’s nonprofit organization. Ms. Van Buskirk is the president of the Van Wezel Foundation that advocates and fundraises for the city-owned performance arts hall. The organization was formed in 2000 and obtains revenue through volunteers and donors. Ms. Van Buskirk successfully raised a favorable amount of nonprofit revenue after her induction as the president of the organization back in 2011. By generating a substantial amount of nonprofit revenue, Ms. Van Buskirk wants to increase the Van Wezel Performance Arts Hall’s role in providing entertainment and education in the Sarasota community. There are an estimated 25,000 children that visit the performing arts hall annually. These students normally tour the hall to see the various organizations that travel to Van Wezel. Van Wezel also hosts a number of youth-oriented programs throughout the year, consisting of shows and performances like the “Let’s Go Science Show,” “Curious George Live!” and “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” The Van Wezel Foundation has also helped to provide free transportation to these performances for student field trips to the performing arts center, and offers exceptional service to the Sarasota and surrounding communities. The foundation allows for local outreach to the surrounding communities by providing different types of educational experiences for students while alluring students with entertaining events that can make education more enticing. In addition to educational experiences for students, The Van Wezel Foundation wants to expand the Van Wezel’s involvement with education through the Bayfront 20:20 revitalization plan. Originally under Ms. Van Buskirk, the Van Wezel Foundation planned to construct a campus that is an arts-oriented organization for students passionate about the performing arts. Ms. Van Buskirk stated in the 2015 East County Observer interview that she wanted “to see [the] land being used properly instead of as just a parking lot.” After Ms. Van Buskirk resigned in 2018,Cheryl Mendelson has continued what Ms. Van Buskirk grew into a successful fundraising organization dedicated to entertainment and education.
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