Partnering with Sarasota’s New Creative Hotel

The Art Ovation Hotel
The Art Ovation Hotel in Sarasota, Florida.

Join forces. Be in cahoots. Lend a hand. Make a deal.
Idioms aside, the point is: incredible things can be achieved when two forces combine to create one powerful team. 

It’s called synergy, and it can impact the entire world. Sure, many solo acts have shaped history, but partnerships can create an entirely new culture. Proctor & Gamble, Lennon and McCartney, Laverne and Shirley, and even good ol’ PB&J prove it may be time for knowledge to take a bow as collaboration is clearly king. 

Last year, Ringling College of Art and Design continued its ongoing legacy of community collaboration by partnering with Art Ovation Hotel to form engaging, artistic experiences for guests. The luxury boutique hotel prides itself on being ‘Exactly like nothing else,’ prompting an exciting challenge for Ringling College students, faculty, and alumni to conceive, design, and manage curated offerings throughout the organization, including everything from events and sculptures to non-tangibles, such as marketing and data research. 

It may seem rather obvious to combine the works from an art college with the offerings of an art hotel and, well, that’s because it is. Together, both enterprises have the opportunity to show visitors just how high Sarasota is setting the bar for all things art-related.

Jeff Schwartz, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Ringling College, spearheaded both the community partnership and Art Ovation’s first exhibit, LEGACY. He utilized the Ringling College Collaboratory’s ability to bring together businesses and students for real-world experiential learning collaborations. LEGACY, An Exhibit by Ringling College of Art and Design Faculty and Alumni, was on display when the hotel opened its doors in early 2018. “It’s exciting to bring twelve artists and fifty works by dedicated professors and successful alumni to the community. It’s been a great journey,” says Schwartz.

During the Ringling College Illustration show at Art Ovation, The Doo-Shots provided musical accompaniment with Illustration Department Head Scott Gordley on the saxophone.

As a part of Project Sketchbook, students drew and designed individual specialty pieces on the first page of leather-bound sketchbooks, each ultimately placed in one of Art Ovation’s 162 rooms for the purpose of inspiring guests to draw, write, or doodle in its accompanying pages. This created an invisible thread from guest to guest and from guest to Ringling College.

One of the most notable, and valuable, aspects of this partnership, however, is the influence of Ringling College’s Business of Art and Design Major (BOAD).

“Last year, students in the BOAD program toured the hotel while it was under construction,” says Kathleen Sobr, BOAD’s Department Head. “Over the spring semester, students worked with the hotel’s Cultural Curator, Lisa DiFranza, to develop concepts for interactive guest experiences and in-house event programming,” she says. “Now, one year later, we have a fresh group of students eager to collaborate on a new project for Art Ovation. This time, they will be diving even deeper to develop rich insights about Sarasota’s diverse population of travelers, young professionals, and retirees,” she says, adding “Experiential learning projects like these help close the theory-practice gap for our students and are a vital part of our curriculum.”

DiFranza agrees, “It’s quite incredible to see how BOAD is integrated into the ways we are thinking about our programming and marketing and the influence the students bring into how we include the community and visitors.” 

Patrons looking at the student-made comic book, Meanwhile.
The exhibit for Meanwhile, Ringling College’s student-made comic book.

A myriad of engagements, exhibitions, and interactive events are regularly featured and on rotation at the hotel. Currently, the Creative Writing Program is hosting a ‘Meet the Author’ drop-in event in the lobby as part of its Visiting Writers Forum. The Illustration Department recently utilized Art Ovation’s Artists’ Studio to celebrate the Ringling College Illustration Department’s iconic comic book, Meanwhile, showcasing both the graphic novel and the artists.

“Our goal is to expose students and the public to working writers and their blueprints for success. We’re aiming to shatter the myth of the starving writer,” says Creative Writing faculty, Rick Dakan. 

Demonstrations, internships, and exhibition opportunities are continually in motion between the College and the hotel. “It may be a Ringling College event,” says DiFranza, “but it still activates that lobby space and creates a fun event for our guests.” Meaning, even if the spotlight is on Ringling College, Art Ovation appreciates being on the stage. Proving, yet again, that collaboration reigns supreme. 


By Megan Greenberg | Images by Elan Photography
Megan Greenberg is a freelance writer, coordinator for the Ringling College Collaboratory, and Director for PINC Sarasota.