Historic $1.7 Million Raised at Van Wezel Foundation’s 20th Annual Inspiration Gala


$20 Million in Private Funding Committed to Future Sarasota Performing Arts Center by Foundation Board

Harry Connick Jr. Surprised & Delighted Gala Attendees, Urging Their Support of Foundation’s Mission-driven Education Work

SARASOTA, Friday, January 28, 2022 – The Van Wezel Foundation (Foundation) held its 20th annual Inspiration Gala on Thursday, January 27, 2022, raising more than $1.7 million. This level of funding makes the 20th annual Inspiration Gala the most successful fundraising event in the Foundation’s history. During the gala, it was also announced that the first $20 million in private funding for the future Sarasota Performing Arts Center was committed by the Foundation Board.

 “The Foundation’s board is comprised of generous, passionate leaders with an unwavering sense of resilience, and, because of those values, we can proudly announce the first $20 million in private funding for a state-of-the-art performing arts center for our community,” said Jim Travers, Foundation chair.

“Our community has made it loud and clear that it wants a world-class performing arts center, and we are on our way,” said Jenne Britell, Foundation vice chair.

“We are ready to launch our next phase in realizing a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center to serve the region, state and nation for generations to come, and we look forward to working closely with the city of Sarasota, Sarasota County, our public partners and stakeholders on this iconic civic asset,” said Cheryl Mendelson, Foundation CEO.

The evening kicked off with a cocktail reception and was followed by an elegant dinner, live auction, and inspiring program, complete with a surprise appearance by Harry Connick Jr. himself, and the honoring of local educators, Maria Schaedler-Luera, the recipient of the 2022 Appleton Arts Integration Award, and Jillianne Abbott and Talia Casey, the recipients of the 2022 Van Wezel Foundation Merit Scholarships, all with beautiful Sarasota Bay as the backdrop. The evening concluded with a spectacular performance from Grammy® and Emmy® Award-winner Harry Connick Jr. in the storied Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Susan Travers and Kathy Martella served as co-chairs for this year’s Inspiration Gala alongside a host committee of dedicated benefactors.


The Van Wezel Foundation’s mission is to create and sustain a vibrant performing arts center, advance education, and enrich communities by inspiring minds through the power of the arts. The Foundation has partnered with the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall since 1987 to support arts education throughout our region, serving more than 50,000 students and their families annually with enriching arts-based education opportunities and professional development for more than 400 teachers across five counties. The Van Wezel Foundation is leading the vision to build a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center as a public-private partnership with the city, and in collaboration with the Bay Park Conservancy and Van Wezel Hall. To learn more about the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center and get involved, visit vwfoundation.org/SPAC. For more information on the Foundation and its mission, visit vwfoundation.org, or join us on Facebook and Instagram.


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