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Jorge Blanco's Bravo! A Progressive dinner tour of Sarasota’s public art

Tour downtown Sarasota from one public art piece to another with dinner, drinks and dessert.

The Ringling Museum of Art, Urbanite Theater, the Circus Arts Conservatory, SarasotaMOD Weekend; there is no shortage of arts in Sarasota. With so much going on it is easy to overlook what is often hiding in plain sight: the City of Sarasota’s public art collection.

When I first looked at the Sarasota’s online map of public art, I was surprised to find that it has 81 pieces in its collection. Some the city owns, while others are donated by local developers.

Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, emphasizes the word “public” in public art. “It is art for all of us,” he said.

“It is art for everyone, every day” said Andrea Knies, the alliance’s director of communication. Knies has been adding to the alliance’s website in order to provide more information about Sarasota’s public art.

With this much public art to explore, I decided to take myself on a self-guided tour. Given the heat and humidity, as well as red tide, I planned my tour to alternate between being outside looking at art and being inside enjoying air conditioning. I combined my outdoor gallery walk with a “progressive dinner.” Instead of going to one of our many great restaurants for a full meal and sweltering through the rest of the trek, I broke up my evening by moving between art stops and food/drink stops.

Take my tour, or design your own. Alternatively, the Arts and Cultural Alliance just launched their own public art scavenger hunt, with prizes, that is open to all.

Stop 1: Social Eatery and Bar


Learn more about the Sarasota Arts and Cultural Alliance Scavenger Hunt by calling 941-365-5118 or visiting

For those with limited mobility or who are just uninterested in walking when it is still 90 degrees outside, iRide is available to shuttle passengers around the downtown core for free (though tipping is encouraged). Call iRide at 941-444-2585.

While Social (1219 1st St.) is a well known dinner spot with a popular outdoor patio bar, their “social hour” weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. made this an ideal stop to begin my tour. During “social hour” at the bar, the sharing plates, or appetizers, are 20 percent off; draft beers are $5, featured red and white wines are $6, and select cocktails are $7. I opted for one of their specialty “zero-proof” (no alcohol) cocktails, the Strawberry Rose Fizz ($6). Macerated strawberries and royal rose simple syrup topped with Fever Tree soda water and a touch of lemon zest made this an especially refreshing option on a humid afternoon.

Stop 2: “The Butterfly Lady”

On the corner of Cocoanut and Palm, in front of Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre, is “The Butterfly Lady.” The rich ornamentation of the sculpture contrasts with the vertical beams of the Tudor-revival style of the historic Sarasota Woman’s Club building, highlighting how the placement of public art can amplify both the art as well as its surroundings.

Stop 3: ”Mr. Red”; “Enigma”

In the median of Cocoanut near North Gulfstream is a nearly 8-foot, bright red aluminum lattice sculpture of a horse named “Mr. Red.” Looking at it, it is easy to imagine the days when horses were the locals’ iRide. Gulfstream, there is a grassy park that hosts “Enigma,” which, to some, evokes a communist-style apartment block.

Stop 4: CasAntica Ristorante

Intimate. Romantic. Cozy. I’d heard these words from friends who had dined at CasAntica (1213 N. Palm Ave.), but until this tour hadn’t made it there. It lived up to their hype: inside an old, historic home, the restaurant oozes atmosphere. I splurged on the Branzino ($35), a type of European sea bass, because as much as I love our local grouper sometimes the occasion calls for new things.

Stop 5: Perspective Rooftop Bar at Art Ovation Hotel

Perspective is the rooftop bar at the relatively new Art Ovation hotel at 1255 N. Palm Ave. Many of the specialty cocktails are named after Sarasota-connected art (“The Highwaymen”), literature (“Busted Flush,” name of the houseboat used by the protagonist Travis McGee in John D. MacDonald’s popular series of mystery books), and architecture (“Sunset through the Skyspace”). I tried the “3,000 Tiles,” a pisco based cocktail with spirulina that turns the drink blue-green, a nod to the 3,000 green glazed terracotta tiles that cover the Center for Asian Art at The Ringling.

Stop 6: Palm Avenue Parking Garage

Despite having parked in the Palm Garage (1287, 1255 N. Palm Ave.) numerous times, I had not really noticed the arts-related murals painted on each elevator bay. On the sixth floor of the garage is “Theater: Sorry ... Sold Out,” which features a trompe l’oeil mural by local artist Skip Dryda. The fifth floor is “Opera”; fourth floor, “Music”; third floor, “Film”; and second floor, “Dance.” Each mural is painted by a different artist and thus are all different and worth visiting.

Stop 7: Louies Modern or Buddy Brew Coffee

From the parking garage, I walked down one flight of stairs to where two equally good choices awaited at 1289 N. Palm Ave. I opted for both. Louies Modern’s bar features an excellent array of interesting cocktails, as well as an extensive whiskey list. I chose the gin-based “Fountain of Youth” ($12) which is acidic and slightly sweet, but considered their “Watermelon Frose,” another trendy standout. Across from the entrance to Louies Modern is Sarasota’s outpost of St. Petersburg-based Buddy Brew Coffee. I had a cold brew ($3.50) though if I wasn’t headed for dessert I would have asked for the Affogato, which is an espresso shot poured over a scoop of vanilla gelato ($5).

Stop 8: “Pioneer Family Hears a Sound: is it Bears or Billy Bowlegs?”; “Garden Sculpture 3″; “Earth Mother”

City Hall has the densest concentration of public art in town, including three sculptures by former New College of Florida art professor Jack Cartlidge. “Pioneer Family Hears a Sound: Is It Bears or Billy Bowlegs?” and the adjacent “Nobody’s Listening” both demonstrate his technique of hammered copper that looks like bronze. The earthy colors and rumpled style of the sculptures contrasts with the mid-century modern aesthetic of City Hall. “Earth Mother” is semi-hidden behind bushes on the corner of Orange and Main, but figuring out how to get close to the sculpture only adds to its allure. The angular “Garden Sculpture 3″ reminded me of an FSU fan, but others might see something different.

Stop 9: “Embracing Our Differences”

From City Hall, it is a short stroll down Orange to the sculpture in the roundabout of Orange and Main. The artist, H. Blessing Hancock, originally called it “Infinity,” as it is shaped like a three dimensional infinity symbol. It has been renamed “Embracing Our Differences” as the multi-colored panels are to represent diversity.

Stop 10: Gelato-go Sarasota

I decided to get dessert at one of Sarasota’s newest and highest rated gelato shops, Gelato-go, at 14 S. Orange Ave. In a city saturated with gelaterias, this is no small feat. The pistachio (small, $4.50) was recommended to me by the regulars in line ahead of me, and they weren’t wrong. It was creamy, nutty, and quite possibly the smoothest gelato I’ve ever had.

Stop 11: “Meander”; “Bravo!”

With my gelato in a cup and rapidly melting, I crossed the street to look at “Meander,” which is set back in the pocket park between the Wilson Building and the Federal Building. From there, I walked down Orange to the Ringling intersection, and took in the newly installed “Bravo!” by Sarasota artist Jorge Blanco.

By the end of my tour, I had a new appreciation for what a valuable public resource all of this art is. Downtown Sarasota would no longer just be a place to discover new restaurants and shops, but a place to enjoy art, anytime, for free.


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