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(Sarasota, Florida) – The Van Wezel Foundation and the City of Sarasota are pleased to announce the community members who will serve on the Architect Selection Task Force for the Sarasota Performing Arts Center. The five distinguished members of the task force bring a wealth of experience, passion and commitment to fulfilling the promise of this transformative project for Sarasota and the region.

The working group will be chaired by Dr. Jenne K. Britell, Vice-Chairman of the Board of the Van Wezel Foundation. Dr. Britell has been a recognized director and director of public companies and private organizations for over 20 years, following an international career as a senior executive at several financial institutions, including GE Capital, and Chairman of United Rentals. The working group includes Marie Bensellexecutive director of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and member of the Broadway League and Florida Presenters; Marc Familyco-founder of the Sarasota Film Festival, a 50-year-old Sarasotan, and an investor in the development and growth of many neighborhoods in Sarasota; Michele Hooper, CEO of the Board of Directors and highly regarded governance expert and business leader, recently named to the Forbes 50/50 Women Making an Impact; and Dr. Larry R. Thompsonlongtime president of the Ringling College of Art and Design who successfully spearheaded the establishment of the Sarasota Art Museum and was the founding executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

“The arts have the magic and the power to transform lives and communities at all levels. I have seen this power as a participant in similar large-scale cultural projects elsewhere. Now I am honored to bring this experience home to Sarasota,” said Working Group Chair, Dr. Jenne K. Britell.

The RFP will be issued by the city through its public BidSync system to generate national interest from a broad and diverse number of respondents. The architect selection process is expected to take six months and will be funded by an appropriation from the State of Florida. Working group meetings will be open to the public and the selection process will result in a short list of finalists who will come to Sarasota to present their qualifications.

“This is a once-in-a-generation project for the City of Sarasota, and as such, the most accomplished and experienced professionals have been included in the Architect Selection Task Force,” said Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown. “This group understands how important a new performing arts center is to Sarasota’s legacy. I look forward to working closely with them throughout the proposal process.

“We are fortunate to have such a prestigious group of community leaders who will help create an iconic symbol for Sarasota,” said Cheryl Mendelson, CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation. “With the opening of the first phase of Bay Park, we are one step closer to fulfilling the promise of the more than 18,000 community members in the area who have shared with us their aspirations for a new performing arts center.”

The orientation meeting of the architect selection working group will take place on October 31, 2022.

Members of the working group:

Dr. Jenne K. Britell

Chair, Architect Selection Working Group

Vice Chairman of the Board, Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation, Inc.

Organic : Dr. Jenne Britell has been a successful director and administrator of public companies and private organizations for over 20 years, following a successful career as a senior executive at several financial institutions, including GE Capital. Retired as president of United Rentals, Dr. Britell is currently a director of Ocwen Financial Corporation and Dr. Britell has previously served on other public company boards, including TIAA-CREF, Lincoln Financial and Quest Diagnostics, as well as several arts, housing and education boards in nonprofits, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Curtis Institute of Music, New York City Housing Partnership, Philadelphia Orchestra, Santa Fe Institute, and Santa Fe Opera. In 2011, Dr. Britell was named Director of the Year by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the advisory board of the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. Dr. Britell has also published two Harvard Business School case studies highlighting his work with United Rentals.


Marie Bensell

Executive Director, The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Organic : Mary Bensel has been Executive Director of Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for over 14 years. She has served as general manager of Barbara Mann Hall in Ft. Myers, the Walnut Street and Merriam Theaters in Philadelphia; and booking manager for Troika Entertainment, a touring producer of Broadway shows. Bensel is a Tony-Voter, member of the Broadway League, Florida Presenters, board member of Florida Venue Managers and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota. Under Bensel’s leadership, Van Wezel was named the No. 1 theater in its size in the world and went from operating losses to surpluses of over $1 million before COVID.


Marc Family

Board Member, Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation, Inc.

Organic : Mark Famiglio is involved in real estate, construction, finance, information technology, aviation and biologics. A 50-year-old Sarasotan and New College graduate, he is active in the community and philanthropic causes in Southwest Florida and beyond. Mark has been a major supporter of Florida State University College of Medicine and the Ringling Museum, where spaces have been named in his honor. He has owned and rehabilitated many significant historic buildings and is a founding co-producer and president of the Sarasota Film Festival. He has served on the boards of opera and ballet and was president of United Cerebral Palsy. He is a longtime supporter of the Van Wezel Foundation; various children’s service organizations and former director of the Manatee County Economic Development Corporation.


Michele Hooper

Board Member, Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation, Inc.

Organic : Michele J. Hooper is President and CEO of the Board of Directors, which consults with large corporations on board effectiveness and corporate director recruitment, with a primary focus on diverse candidates. She is an audit committee finance expert with over 30 years of experience chairing the audit committees of several large corporations and is a highly regarded governance expert and corporate executive. In 2017, Ms. Hooper was selected as Director of the Year by the National Association of Corporate Directors. This year, she was named to Forbes magazine’s 50 Over 50 Impact list. Ms. Hooper currently serves on the boards of UnitedHealth Group as lead independent director and United Airlines, where she chairs the audit committee. Ms. Hooper is vice chair of the national board of trustees of the Smithsonian Institution and a member of the boards of the Van Wezel Foundation as well as the West Coast Black Theater Troupe.


Dr. Larry R. Thompson

President, Ringling College of Art and Design

Organic : Dr. Larry R. Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art and Design since July 1999, champions the need for businesses to embrace creativity to thrive in the 21st world economy of the century. A lawyer and educator, Thompson previously served as special assistant to the president of The Ohio State University; CEO of the Flint Cultural Center; and the founding executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Dr. Thompson is the past president of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) and currently serves on its executive committee; is the former Chairman of the President’s Council of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF); and sits on the boards of many local arts and civic organizations. Dr. Thompson has received numerous academic and humanitarian honors and awards for his services as a visionary leader and educator.

On April 4, 2022, the Van Wezel Foundation and the Sarasota City Commission formed a partnership to plan, fund, design and build the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center located in the heart of the Bay Park Master Plan. The Van Wezel Foundation is proud to partner with the City of Sarasota and the Bay Park Conservancy to bring this exciting new dream to life.

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