A rebirth is underway in a former high-end Danish furniture
gallery near Sarasota's Main Street where the artists of s/Art/q
enjoyed success their recent inaugural, mixed-media art show in the vacant storefront. The
contemporary art show represents an enlivened art scene as well as the
potential boom following a real estate bust.
As Sarasota moves beyond
its dependence on catering to an
upscale retiree lifestyle, a grassroots community here is championing
evolution to more diverse and vibrant city fueled by a mix of tech and
The artists at s/Art/q, a non-profit contemporary art collaborative, are part the Sarasota HuB
a tech-creative business incubator based on the ideas of Richard
Florida, author of "The Rise of the Creative Class" and most recently,
"Who's Your City." Founded by 30-somethings Rich Swier and Matt Orr,
Sarasota's HuB began operating in June on a shoestring budget with a
handful of multitasking staff members and a big idea: "to bring a new
energy to the creative-class in Sarasota, Florida to help transform our
city socially, economically and politically."
economic development model is a creative expression in itself—a hybrid
of social networking, community building and Internet startup savvy. While the s/Art/q modern art show and other events draw artists,
students, designers and would-be entrepreneurs to a more vibrant social
scene, the HuB offers marketing and management expertise as well as
seed capital to pioneering tech and creative business people. Already,
the HuB has attracted two Internet-based startups, offering in return
"a community network and attention you wouldn't get if you were in
Boston or the Valley," Swier says.
Launching New Concepts
Swier, a cofounder of Sarasota's venture capital enterprise StartUp Florida
has successfully launched several Internet-based startups, including
FastPitch, which is now based at HuB headquarters in Sarasota's
historic downtown Rosemary district. He recently founded VentureCast,
an online network that matches business investors with entrepreneurs,
from the HuB as well. Entrepreneurs can post their business plans on
VentureCast for free, and pay additional fees for matching services.
In addition to reviewing dozens of new business plans each month
through VenureCast, Swier is connected to Enterprise Florida
as a board
appointee to its council tasked with developing the state's life
sciences market sector. Orr, an uber-downtowner and former real estate
agent, founded ThisWeekinSarasota.com
, a website that
lists user-posted events and entertainment. The site has expanded
into a multimedia company that promotes Sarasota tourism on the web, in
print and on Internet television in local hotel rooms.
Early in the fall, the partners launched I Love Downtown
through social media, encouraging fans and followers to send photos of
what they love about Sarasota's downtown. The photos have been
incorporated into the HuB's first marketing campaign to encourage
patronage of downtown merchants. Within months after founding the HuB,
Swier and Orr had been approached by several major arts groups and
festivals for advice and social marketing strategies to help reach a
new audiences and enliven arts offerings.
has long lamented the community's talent drain—well-educated and
creative college grads who leave the area to find better jobs. The Ringling College of Art and Design
, for example, boasts one of the
premier computer animation training programs in the country, and its
graduates are recruited by DreamWorks Animation, Google and Sony. Yet
the city has been unable to attract a major production studio to employ
some of its design graduates. As Sarasota County's economic
development leaders discuss tax incentives for established companies
that might relocate to the area or create new jobs, Swier sees
cultivating Sarasota's native talent as the better approach. Building Equity
recent s/Art/q T-shirt silk screening party, at which partygoers chose
from local artists' original designs and mingled as their T-shirts were
produced, attracted more than 1,000 attendees. That event and
Sarasota's first VinylFest electronic music festival featuring
nationally known deejays inspired Janis Krums to base his email
security company, InBoxAlarm, in Sarasota, rather than in Silicon
Valley, where his partner resides. InBoxAlarm sets up electronic traps
that can detect email hackers.
Economic development, Swier says,
should be measured by new dollars coming into Sarasota, and $100
million in new revenues one day would put Sarasota on track to a
diverse and flourishing economy once again.
"The obvious question is
what is the shortest path," Swier says. "Tech and creative companies.
Nothing grows as quickly with less investment. We're building some
equity into the city that has longevity and value."Kim Cartlidge is a Sarasota-based journalist who thrives on the natural beauty of Sarasota's white quartz beaches, mangrove tunnels and families of urban-dwelling Sandhill Cranes. Comments?
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