This cultural paradise by the Bay is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the circus king John Ringling (one of five brothers who created the Ringling Bros. circus) and his wife Mable purchasing property, which today is the Ringling Museum, in Sarasota. The museum features 15,000 objects in its international art collection and a year-round performing arts schedule that would be the envy of any metropolis around the world.

The Ringlings decision to make a winter home on Florida’s Gulf Coast 100 years ago in 1911 eventually led to the creation of the couples spectacular Ca’ d’Zan mansion in 1926 and the opening in 1931 of The Ringling Museum of Art. In 1927, the Ringlings decision to move the winter headquarters of the circus here from Bridgeport, Ct., sparked an economic boom for Sarasota and created a thriving tourism industry. As one of the Florida’s first tourist attractions, years before DisneyWorld opened in 1971, the Ringling Museum drew more than 100,000 people from 1927 to 1959. Today, the museum draws more than 300,000 people annually.

Today The Ringling Museum entices visitors with unique experiences, such as the center stage of the Ringling International Arts Festival <> a six-day cultural celebration of modern music, dance, theater, and visuals arts, Oct. 11-16. Co-produced by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and New York’s Baryshnikov Arts Center, the festival is held around the picturesque estate of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. The artists showcased are hand picked by the legendary ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.

This year’s festival, now entering its third year, offers a surprising variety of music, dance and theater, including the opportunity to experience a 21st century marching band, authentic Argentinean tango, a celebration of Irish step dance, a rare performance of Carl Czerny’s virtuosic Quatuor Concertant, as well as a re-imagining of a Shakespeare play, and a joyous dance interpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein. These artists follow in the footsteps of other world-class artists, such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, María Pagés, Peter Brook and Nilo Cruz to name a few, whose work has thrilled audiences at the Ringling International Arts Festival.

The festival debut in 2009 and has thrilled audiences in excess of 11,000 during its inaugural year and again in 2010, with many sold-out performances.  Due to its popularity organizers extended the 2011 festival to five days. Opening Night is Tuesday, Oct. 12 featuring a Block Party with Asphalt Orchestra in the Museum of Art Courtyard.  Festival performance tickets are affordably priced. Prices range from as little as $20 to $150 for Opening Night

During the festival visitors can experience The Amazing American Circus Poster. This special exhibition showcases the bombastic circus posters that reflected the golden age and cultural influence of the circus on America; and a new exhibition space (opening September 24) that celebrates circus performers and the magic of the center ring.

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