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Booker Middle & Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Partner for VPA Festival of the Arts

by Christine Hopkins, VPA Coordinator at Booker Middle School

SARASOTA COUNTY, May 6, 2021 – Sarasota is well-known for its inspirational and innovative approach to producing the visual and performing arts in the community. While it is a small area comparatively to other arts-infused geographical locations, Sarasota offers the small town feel with a big heart for impactful, high-caliber arts. It is widely known that this is a robust community that values creativity in all arts disciplines, but it’s also known that the arts community has had to find new, innovative ways to engage audiences since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two local organizations came together, knowing the strength of this community, and decided that this not-so-little arts town remains committed to engaging the community through the arts during these challenging times.

In a recent conversation, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Booker Middle School were discussing how artists—both adults and children alike—were suffering because of the loss of opportunities to perform this year. As both organizations looked to the future with hope, the conversation steered toward idea of socially distanced and safe performances and exhibits for students and families.

What resulted was a meaningful collaboration among Booker Middle VPA, the Hall, and the Van Wezel Foundation and its donors. Students would have the opportunity to not just share their art, but do so on a larger platform, within a professional venue.

Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator Christine Hopkins excitedly shares: “The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the Van Wezel Foundation have given Booker Middle School the most impactful and invaluable gift: a venue for our students to share their art in a safe and socially distanced manner. On May 15th, students from Booker Middle School’s Visual and Performing Arts program will be sharing performances and exhibits, spanning all 5 spaces at the Van Wezel, in an all-day Festival of the Arts. We have students from 11 programs performing including: 2D/3D Art, Band, Chorus, Creative Writing, Dance, Digital Design, Drama, Modern Band, Musical Theatre, Orchestra, and Technical Theatre. With the 5 spaces available – and the campus being open to us all day – this allows us to stagger performances, keep capacity limited, and give our Visual & Performing Arts students a place to perform, to share, and to heal. I cannot think of a better gift for an artist to receive this year. The Van Wezel has granted our students that very gift.”

Though this partnership between Booker Middle School and the Van Wezel isn’t a new one, both organizations are thrilled to amplify and grow this already strong and collaborative relationship into a completely new event.

The Van Wezel’s Education and Outreach Director, Kelli Maldonado, expresses: “The Van Wezel Education & Outreach department provides opportunities to see art, create art, and share art. Our relationship with Booker Middle School allows us to strengthen the foundation and artistic inspiration of young artists. As part of our mission, the VWPAH aims to provide meaningful education experiences to our community and reflect the needs of our community. We hope the students and staff of BMS see our venue as a civic asset and a place where they can highlight the remarkable work of their students through a truly special experience.”

Hopkins also states: “it takes a village to provide our students with an opportunity of this magnitude. We have members of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) supporting us, the team from Keller Williams – led by Ashley Najjar – sponsoring lunch for our all-day volunteers, and we have financial support from the Van Wezel Foundation. We couldn’t have put this all together without this wonderful village of people.”

Maldonado adds: “The ability of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and generosity of the donors to the Van Wezel Foundation allows us to deepen our relationship with our community of arts learners. The ability to serve over 100 students through a day-long festival of the arts highlights the creativity and resiliency of our arts community and schools during a challenging year. This is an experience the students will carry with them throughout their lives.”

Booker Middle’s VPA Festival of the Arts, in collaboration with the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, will occur at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Saturday, May 15th. Ticket reservations and capacity are limited, and prioritized for the families of students; however, a small number of tickets may be available. For more information, or to inquire about ticket availability for this event, please contact Booker Middle School’s Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator, Christine Hopkins, at  

To learn more about the Van Wezel’s education program and offerings, please go to