At Art Ovation Hotel, Visual and Culinary Art Coalesce for an Immersive Experience with Sarasota’s Art Community
Sarasota, Florida is known for its thriving arts community, home to artists, renowned architects and creative professionals who give the city a vibrant character, unique to any other place in the state. This Gulf Coast city in Southwest Florida is the cradle of a modernist architectural movement known as the Sarasota School of Architecture and a muse to countless artists and artisans.
At the creative epicenter is Art Ovation, an Autograph Collection hotel, that serves as a cultural ambassador for the community promoting local artists and fostering connections with creative institutions including the Ringling College of Art and Design.
The name—Art Ovation—aptly sums up its mission to immerse visitors in a complete sensory experience of the arts. I recently stayed for two nights to feed my imagination metaphorically and literally, as visual and culinary converge in a Cuban exhibit and new pop up restaurant concept.
My senses began firing from the moment I step into the art-filled lobby that smells of lemon and white thyme, the hotel’s exclusive signature scent. Cuban music plays with a joyful backbeat and my pandemic-fatigued mood begins to brighten as I take in the colorful artworks hanging in the lobby by Cuban artists.
The exhibit, entitled Converging Dialogues in Contemporary Art: Cernuda Arte Represented Artists features works by Giosvany Ecchevarria, Miguel Florido, Flora Fong, Lilian Garcia-Roig, Danuel Mendez and Jorge Luis Santos. Artwork is on display in the lobby, throughout the hallways and meeting areas.
At Overture Restaurant in the hotel, art and food coalesce in a thematic experience reflecting the Cuban exhibit. As a tribute to the art and artists, Overture is serving a Cuban inspired menu of culinary creations, each its own work of art in its presentation and plating.
“Art is not something that just hangs on the wall. It should be a full embodiment of experiences that you want to share with others. That craving for something new and novel is what our menu offers in a sensory-rich, culinary experience,” says Ashley Wright, Director of Outlets. “Everything in this property was done with pure intention. Nothing was done as an afterthought and I think that is reflected with our menu.”
The culinary experience functions as a “pop-up” restaurant concept, offering the Cuban menu for a limited time. This delicious merging of visual and culinary arts expresses itself in dishes such as the Cuban sandwich served in a cigar box and the espresso milkshake served with a hazelnut wafer cigar that the waiter ignites tableside for a theatrical experience.
“Every dish is Instagram-worthy. We want to inspire your palette and picture taking,” says Orcun Turkay, Corporate Director of Food & Beverage, Shaner, the hotel management company. “Our chefs are the artists in the kitchen. They are no different from other artists; one puts art on paper and one puts it on the plate,” Turkay says.
I met up with Executive Chef Mark Galvin and his associate, Chef Jose Cruz who developed the Cuban inspired menu to sample and photograph their culinary artwork.
This is Overture’s first art-inspired menu and Chef Galvin says he plans to rotate the menu three times a year to coordinate with each hotel exhibit. “It’s like having a new restaurant every four months with changing menus, music, even server uniforms that coordinate with the theme, “ says Galvin.
I sampled the hearty Cuban sandwich served up in a cigar box with plantain chips and seasoned with the restaurant’s secret recipe. For dessert, I had a delectable flan, creamy but not too sweet, a recipe from the Cuban mother of one of the staff cooks. Each dish is designed to be camera-ready for social media. “We want to serve dishes that foster interaction between the server and guests, such as the lighting the cookie cigar. These experiences start a conversation about our cuisine,” says Chef Jose Cruz.
Overture aims to be the dining destination for the community with an identity apart from the hotel, yet drawing inspiration from its art collection for its culinary creations. “A culinary professional is an artist. His art is on the plate rather than on the wall. The visual art is in the plating and the culinary art is the cooking technique,” says Galvin.
Art Ovation aims to be an incubator for artists offering free gallery space and a chance to showcase their talents with its artist-in-residence studio.
Located in the lobby across from the hotel bar, the space currently hosts the works of Lisa DiFranza, the hotel’s former culture curator. Her collection, Time Lapse 2020, features colorful watercolor paintings. Every two weeks, a new artist takes over the space to create art and mingle with guests. The hotel has put the program on hold due to the pandemic and plans to restart it in January.
“We have an on-site culture curator and a corporate art curator. They work together to vet requests from artists to showcase their works in the artist-in-residence or on our walls. We want to foster and promote local artists by providing free gallery space. They have free reign to paint or create their art in the evenings and interact with the guests,” explains Okan Karadag, Art Ovation Hotel General Manager.
In January, Art Ovation plans to restart its active events calendar, playing host to artistic performances on stage in the hotel lobby. “We will feature all types of artists from the local community including poets, dancers, musical performances, and high school programs,” says Karadag.
Throughout the hotel, five other art exhibits showcase a diverse range of works including the bright, whimsical, representational paintings of Peter Jacob Christ. His series Gone But Not Forgotten exudes 1950s signage, typography, toys and everyday objects.
Other works that caught my attention include the sensory-rich textile creations of artist Peppi Elona hanging in the hallways leading to the ballroom and meeting spaces.
The hotel also hosts Sarasota’s busy social season that typically runs from October to April with more than 350 luncheons and galas taking place in the hotel ballroom, spanning 6200 square feet, meeting rooms, the restaurant, lobby and rooftop bar, Perspective.
I end each day of my hotel stay, sipping a glass of wine while watching the sunset over the cityscape from Perspective, the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant. As the skyline morphs from blues to reds, pinks and oranges casting an ethereal glow on the buildings and water, I smile thinking how this would be the perfect painting to capture on canvas. Perhaps a Sarasota artist will paint it one day to hang in the hotel’s permanent collection, reminding us that inspiration is everywhere.
To learn more about this four-diamond hotel with 162 rooms, centrally located in downtown Sarasota, check out the website.