Visiting the Sarasota Art Museum

By Caitlin Scheufler

If you’ve ever spent time in downtown Sarasota, Florida, or enjoyed any of Sarasota’s world-famous beaches, odds are you’ve driven by the striking neo-gothic structure that in 2019 welcomed the public as the Sarasota Art Museum (SAM). The museum is comprised of 15,000 square feet of exhibition and event space in the beautifully restored 1926 structure that originally housed Sarasota High School. 

Exterior Sarasota Art Museum Sarasota, Florida.
Photo credit Nita Ettinger

SAM is also comprised of two adjacent buildings designed by the legendary Sarasota School of Architecture members Paul Rudolph and Victor Lundy. These striking edifices are home to a charming and delicious bistro serving coffee, light fare, and beverages, as well as large and inviting event spaces and studios that at least twice weekly open to museum members for free children’s and all-ages arts classes. SAM’s studio programs are also included with museum admission. 

Sarasota Art Museum courtyard and entrance Sarasota, Florida.
Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Walking into Sarasota Art Museum feels like taking a step back in time, more to the mid-century modern era than to the 1920s when the original high school was constructed. The museum’s entrance is through an inviting courtyard dotted with electric blue bistro chairs and large white umbrellas, outdoor seating for the bistro that sits immediately to your right in the shadow of the substantial building that houses the museum’s galleries. 

Sarasota Art Museum courtyard with Bistro restaurant outdoor dining space palm tree and blue skies.
Photo credit Nita Ettinger

SAM regularly hosts evening jazz concerts in this courtyard on the second Thursday of every month. The outdoor event, with a rotating roster of ever-changing guest performers, is free to members and open to the public for a small fee and is one of the most enjoyable evenings of entertainment Sarasota currently has to offer. The bistro is available for dinner and drinks, and the galleries and MOMA-inspired museum shop remain open to any Jazz Night guest late into the evening, closing at 7 p.m. 

Band plays an outdoor concert for a crowd during Jazz Night at the Sarasota Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida
Photo courtesy Sarasota Art Museum

The galleries are, of course, the reason to visit Sarasota Art Museum. SAM’s affiliation with Ringling College of Art and Design ensures that fresh and relevant examples of contemporary art are on display and also ever-changing. 

Sarasota Art Museum gallery contemporary art exhibit Sarasota, Florida.
Photo credit Caitlin Scheufler
Sarasota Art Museum contemporary art gallery exhibit Sarasota, Florida.
Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Exhibitions are held on the second and third floors of the building, spanning the entirety of each floor. The gallery spaces themselves are unadorned and almost cavernous in their grandiosity; this intentional openness allows for the diverse multitude of art that has thus far been on display to both breathe and really shine. Small and intricate textile work and artists’ ephemera, gargantuan large-format photography and sculpture, moving images, and distinctive audio/visual work all have found a welcome home at SAM. And Sarasota Art Museum has found a welcoming and appreciating home in sunny Sarasota. 

Sarasota Art Museum is worth returning to again and again, and revisiting is easily possible with a range of reasonably priced membership options and the museum’s free admission days, offered on the second Sunday of every month.

Check out the links below for more ways to experience the Sarasota Art Museum!

Free Second Sundays at Sarasota Art Museum

Talks and Tours at Sarasota Art Museum

Your Wednesday Playdates at Sarasota Art Museum

Saturday Studios at Sarasota Art Museum

Performances at Sarasota Art Museum

Sarasota Art Museum features 15,000 square feet of dedicated exhibition gallery space, a restaurant, museum shop, and sculpture courtyard.
Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Written by: Caitlin Scheufler

Caitlin Scheufler is a third-generation Sarasota native who recently moved back to her hometown after spending the last fifteen years in New York. She is thrilled to be raising her family here while rediscovering (and in many cases—discovering!) all Sarasota has to offer.