A Passion for Art, Education, and Action

Koni Findlay doesn’t think of herself as a modern art enthusiast, but the walls of her Sarasota home are graced by contemporary pieces. “I buy what I like,” she says. She and her husband Cary also like making a difference in their community and helping young people get an education.

 Add an appreciation for old buildings (“They have personality,” says Koni) and a passion for making things happen, and it’s easy to see why they generously supported the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA), a division of Ringling College of Art and Design, with a gift of $1 million.

 The story began long before SMOA was even a dream. When Koni and Cary first contemplated moving to Sarasota, they had the good luck to engage Linda Dickinson as their real estate agent. While driving around town, Koni remembers noticing the former Sarasota High School building and learning from Linda that it had an uncertain future. In the years that followed, Koni and Cary made Sarasota their home and became involved with many worthy organizations in the community. In particular, Cary joined the board of the Asolo Rep and Koni honored her love of animals by supporting Sarasota County’s Animal Rescue Coalition (ARC). “I want to make a difference when I get involved and I want to get involved with things I enjoy,” says Koni.

 They came to know Ringling College President Dr. Larry R. Thompson, and grew to admire his passion for the College’s students and his vision for art and education. Helping young people get a college education is important to the Findlays. The foundations they created when they sold their South Carolina textile business were dedicated to sending the children of their former employees to college. Through Koni and Cary’s generosity, these young people now have an opportunity to seek a brighter future through education.

 Although many years passed after the conversation with Linda Dickinson about the Sarasota High School building, the dream of creating a modern and contemporary art museum in Sarasota would bring the Findlays full circle to that early Sarasota memory.

 As Linda and the other SMOA visionaries began looking to the community for help, Linda thought immediately of the Findlays. They became members of the SMOA Starters Circle—interested Sarasotans who provided seed money for the new project—and Koni joined the SMOA board. When SMOA and Ringling College joined forces to envision a Visual Arts Education Center in the old Sarasota High School building, with the Sarasota Museum of Art at its heart, all of the pieces were in place. Koni and Cary’s interest in education, appreciation for art, passion for advancing the community, and respect for historic preservation all came together.

 “Sarasota is the cultural center of Florida. It’s what makes our community special and this project is important to Sarasota,” says Koni.

 In contributing $1 million to Ringling College for SMOA, through a combination of current and deferred gifts, Koni and Cary have truly made a difference in helping to bring SMOA from vision to reality.

Photograph by Barbara Banks