The Hermitage Artists’ Retreat has become an incubator for artists across the country
At the lovely secluded beachside location on Manasota Key that is the retreat of the Hermitage artists, the seabird wheel, splashing waves and white sand make for peaceful walks. It’s a haven for artists lucky enough to receive a residency there, and it’s also a place where locals can attend talks, performances, and other events featuring those artists, often at little or no cost. of charges.
Things weren’t so peaceful on campus in September when Hurricane Ian hit the Hermitage and devastated much of the Englewood community. While most buildings on campus remained standing after the storm, the hurricane caused extensive property damage and repairs are expected to cost over $1 million.
This news reverberated far beyond Sarasota County beaches. Since the Hermitage was founded some 20 years ago as a place where individual artists have the time and freedom to create, more than 600 creators of music, dance, theater, literature and visual art found inspiration there. And the work they did during the retreat has been shown on stages and museums around the world.
Some examples: Playwright Bess Wohl (Great Horizons), Michael R Jackson (A strange loop, white girl in danger) and Paula Vogel (How I learned to drive, The mother is playing); screenwriter Roberto Bentivegna (Gucci House); composer Vijay Iyer (Noises); flautist Claire Chase (Density 2036); and visual artists Trenton Doyle Hancock and Sanford Biggers are just a few of the professionals who have spent some of the most productive periods of their careers at the Hermitage. (A quick look at the Hermitage website reveals many more acclaimed names over the decades.)
Andy Sandberg, general manager and artistic director of the Hermitage, who has worked at the Hermitage since 2019, explains that the retreat typically welcomes between 75 and 80 artists a year for varying durations, totaling up to four weeks each over two years. . On average, five or six artists occupy the site’s historic Old Florida cottages and homes at any one time.
“It’s such a life-changing experience,” says Sandberg. “We need to tell their stories better. People see our programs here, but the work created here continues to [be enjoyed by] hundreds and thousands, if not millions, of others.
In order to tell these stories, the Hermitage is hiring a full-time alumni coordinator to add to a staff that has already flourished over the past two years, with seven other employees in addition to Sandberg.
The trips that artists take to the Hermitage “are pretty epic,” says Sandberg. “Sometimes the work doesn’t materialize for years.” But in the meantime, “they are part of our family and are ambassadors in the world”.
Sandberg says the Hermitage experience is a “chance for an artist to try something, sometimes for the first time, or in a new format.” Sometimes it’s just easier to create in Sarasota than, say, New York or London.
Bess Wohl, for example, couldn’t rehearse her new show, Camp Siegfried, elsewhere during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. But here, the Hermitage put her in touch with actors from the Florida Studio Theater with whom she was able to rehearse and stage the show, which is now included in the next season of New York’s Second Stage Theater.
Sandberg admits that some of the performers “never heard of Sarasota” before coming here. “But they leave singing the Sarasota song,” he says, especially after collaborating with art groups here. “There are a few hundred untold stories that we don’t even know about ourselves,” he adds.
One such story comes from Tony Award winner Gavin Creel (Hello Dolly!, Hair and, more recently, the revival of In the woods on Broadway). Creel was at the Hermitage to work on and develop the original musical piece walk through, commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This laid the groundwork for Creel to take the piece to the next level at the Eugene O’Neill Festival, where, he says, “we tore it up and rebuilt it”. He’s now set for that piece to audition for backers in New York.
“It couldn’t be ready [for that] without the Hermitage,” says Creel. But he spent the first of three weeks here last January and says the place gave him “time, space and peace” to work in.
“When I’m on the move, that’s when my ideas come in,” he says. “At the Hermitage, I walked five to nine miles on the beach every day in a bathing suit. The Hermitage gave me an incredible launching pad and permission to take risks.
For the composer Jeanine Tesori (Resolutely modern Millie, fun house), her stay at the Hermitage comes as she feels stranded. “I hadn’t been able to write for weeks,” she says. “I was freaked out and late with a deadline.” Then, “between Andy’s welcoming spirit and the staff, the community, the soothing sounds of the waves, I was finally able to take notes.
Tesori not only wrote much of the second act of a musical version of George Brant’s play Based (due to premiere at the Washington National Opera in 2023, before a production at the Met in 2025), she also wrote the end of the first act of the current Broadway musical Kimberly Akimbo while he was at the Hermitage. “It was a pivotal time for me, as I hear it has been for all the artists who are lucky enough to spend time there,” she says.
American Ballet Theater dancer and choreographer James Whiteside spent two weeks at the Hermitage adapting his autobiographical book Center Center for the scene. “My time there was so productive that I ended up with drafts of two different plays,” he says. “Every morning I got up, made coffee and started writing. I took a break to swim in the ocean and cook meals, then I got back to work. There were no distractions and it was the perfect place to let the creative juices flow. On top of all that, Whiteside was also able to take a ballet class every other day in a dance studio set up by the Hermitage staff. Center Centera solo dance piece, is set to premiere soon at Theater Aspen.
“I can’t think of a better place to work on what I’m doing,” says visual artist Amanda Williams, who has been working on preparatory sketches for the next iteration of her series. What black is that, you say? at Englewood. The series began in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown in response to media strategies to raise awareness of racial injustice, such as Blackout Tuesday. Watercolors were a quick little medium used as “placeholders” until Williams could return to the studio. A large-scale version of Williams’ project will be exhibited as part of Art Basel Miami Beach with the Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
Williams was also impressed with the Hermitage’s family residency program, which provides babysitters for artists’ children during their stay. As a mother of young children, Williams thought residencies would never work for her. “For me, it was invaluable to have my family with me,” she says. “They had complete comfort here. It would be so much harder in Chicago.
“I think a lot of artists come, and here they open up new ideas and possibilities,” says Sandberg. “Sometimes they do the job they came here for very quickly, then open their minds to start something new,” often with a hybrid multidisciplinary approach. “We’re the only major arts organization here dedicated to creating new work, and we’re shining an international light.”