Schoolchildren waiting to see a show at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Involvement in the arts is a long-running thread throughout the Sarasota area community, and support for arts education programs is crucial to keeping that involvement healthy. One of the biggest supporters: the Van Wezel Foundation, which just announced that it provided grant support of more than $600,000 to underwrite arts education programs for children and educators throughout the community during its just-ended fiscal year.

What does that translate to? For one thing, it means that more than 30,000 students from 109 schools across Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties attended Schooltime Performances at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. (Transportation costs are always a big factor in making those visits possible.) Before each performance, teachers are provided with related materials that carry the lessons to and from the classroom. More than 400 teachers attended workshops to incorporate those performances (by nationally and internationally known artists) into their curriculum and lesson plans.

Attending a Schooltime Performance.

In addition, the foundation funded 15 Family Literacy Nights last season, giving parents and children the chance to enjoy an evening together that included dinner, a skill-building workshop, theater activities, reading and a book to take home. And over the summer, the Summer Learning Academy at 23 different sites in Sarasota and Manatee kept the learning momentum going.

The foundation also supports the Total Access program, which offers veterans, seniors and low-income families tickets to shows at the hall. More than 400 tickets were granted in partnership with local organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Suncoast Charities for Children, Friendship Centers, Loveland Center, Make-A-Wish Foundation and more.

“We are proud to deliver on our mission to ensure that all members of our community can experience the powers of the arts,” says Van Wezel Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson. “I’m inspired by the generosity of our donors who make this important work possible.”

To learn more about the foundation’s mission, visit vwfoundation.org.

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