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Rotary Happenings: Rotary Club updated on BIG ARTS complex

By Staff | Nov 5, 2019


The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club had the pleasure of having BIG ARTS Executive Director Lee Ellen Harder as our guest speaker recently. As most islanders know, over the summer there has been many changes to the BIG ARTS cultural complex on Sanibel. In fact, that is really an understatement in describing the amazing transformation to the buildings and grounds. How about we just call it a total teardown because that is exactly what happened. The new building still occupies the same total buildable footprint, but now uses the old extended outside veranda spaces and walkways within the framework of the new 30,865-square-foot building. The exceptional design of the building will allow a new entrance way from the shared BIG ARTS/Sanibel Historical Museum and Village parking area into a welcoming lobby with generous space for gathering before and after performing arts events in the 410-seat theater or other events happening at the cultural campus.

The vision of the new BIG ARTS building was to keep the traditions of the founders alive and well, using as their guideline the mission “to create great arts, entertainment and learning experiences that always inspire, enrich and delight.” From the humble beginnings and dreams of a small group of artistic and creative islanders in 1979, the Barrier Island Group for the Arts (BIG ARTS) aimed to provide islanders programming and space where visual and performing arts would find a home on Sanibel. The city helped in that vision by leasing city land for such a place. Modifications throughout the next 40 years have expanded the campus and the programming offered at BIG ARTS, but the main venue – Schein Hall – was no longer capable of providing a quality audience experience and updates to sound and light tech just could not be improved on any further.

The design of the seating area in the performance hall needed a functioning redesign, as well as some flexibility that would enhance the audience experience for many types of performance art. Gallery, classroom and artistic studio space needed to be expanded, and to keep everything humming along there was a definite need for a better-designed office-space command center. Flexible public indoor and outdoor space for social gatherings was needed and is now incorporated in the new building. With the addition of a thrust-stage outdoor extension of the building, BIG ARTS now has the ability to provide staging for outdoor performances within the center garden area of the campus.

Congratulations go to the outstanding group of forward thinkers at BIG ARTS who dared to dream big to create such a beautiful new venue for the arts. A venue that will house quality entertainment genres and provide space where creative works can be produced. And dare I do not mention, a space where lectures and classes may often stimulate our thinking and stretching our minds.

San-Cap Rotary is delighted to have generously taken part in the BIG ARTS capital campaign for the construction and outfitting of the outstanding asset to our community. The business community on the islands will benefit from having such an exciting cultural and educational center on Sanibel, one that draws people to our restaurants and shops before and after performances.

Harder showed us a wonderful time-lapse video of construction on the new BIG ARTS building. Wow Buildings coming down, land being cleared and leveled, cement being poured, walls going up, windows and doors going in, roof construction and a paint job. The video ends there but not the work. Now the inside finishing began and that will probably be the toughest area to get right. Technology galore, oh my!

The opening of the new building and the BIG ARTS Dream Season 2020 starts on Feb. 1 with “The Great Dubois.” This will certainly be a busy year at BIG ARTS, so don’t wait too long to buy your tickets to wonderful great performances – tickets are on sale now and selling out fast. The workshop programs have already been announced and reservations are underway. Great year, great fun, great for all of us.

Some may wonder what is happening to the BIG ARTS Strauss Theater on Periwinkle Way. Well, I think that plans are still in the works for the space – small lecture space, additional classroom space, a new pottery studio area, meeting space and maybe small soundproof instrument and vocal rehearsal space (that’s just my suggestion).

There are so many people to recognize for making this dream come true for BIG ARTS. We will recognize just a few and hope we will be forgiven for not mentioning everyone: Fundraising Chair Jim Pigott, Founding Member Ralph Clark, Facilities Chair Chuck Ketterman, architect Amy Nowack, the city of Sanibel and staff at BIG ARTS.

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are welcome to attend.