In May of 2022, a 1,400-square-foot house that was originally built in 1926 was strapped onto a flatbed truck and driven to its new home on Dr. Martin Luther King Way and Orange Ave. The house is the historic home of Sarasota Black community pioneer Leonard Reid and his family. Reid was a pioneer of Overtown, the first Black community in Sarasota, and what is known as the Rosemary District today.
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the building was donated by its owners, a holding group based in Cocoa Beach, to the city of Sarasota. The city of Sarasota bought the plot of land on MLK and worked out a lease agreement with the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition to open a cultural arts and history center.
Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition President and CEO Vickie Oldham, and the Coalition’s board brought the project to Ringling College of Art and Design’s Liberal Arts and Entertainment Design faculty Rick Dakan for collaboration. Oldham had previously worked with Dakan on several projects as part of Newtown Alive, a community organization that preserves the history of the African American community of Newtown — Ringling College’s neighborhood. The organization has published a book on the history of the area and gives trolley tours.
Dakan and fellow Liberal Arts and Entertainment Design faculty Dr. Chelsea Bruner turned to INDEX, Ringling’s Industry Experience program, overseen by Jeff Schwartz and managed by Megan Greenberg. The project soon developed into a class in the Spring of 2022, and that work continues today. Fifteen students from seven majors took part in the project, each offering a different skill in line with their varying majors. Bogged down by the particulars of negotiating the relocation, the lease of the site, and an immense amount of fundraising to make it all happen, Oldham and the board of trustees were excited to see what ideas the INDEX students would come up with.
The students surpassed the board’s expectations. They immediately dug into the research of the area, the Reid family, the house, and the larger story of the Black community in Sarasota. They went into the community to conduct interviews and surveys to determine what programming and features would best serve the community. What they came up with blew the board away.
Bruner shared that, “when the students presented for the first time, some of the board members were moved to tears. They said that in the midst of all the nitty-gritty minutiae, it was truly inspiring to see the students’ vision for what the house could be.”
The possibility of receiving this kind of real-life response is a real credit of the INDEX program, and something you aren’t likely to experience in the classroom alone. The effect of that was felt by the students. Bruner said, “the students were pretty blown away by their reaction. It was awesome.”
The house was relocated from its 7th St. and Central Ave. origin on May 27, 2022. The move was made in the middle of the night and accompanied by a small parade. Bruner said of the event, “it doesn’t get more real than seeing a 100-year-old house being driven down the street at 3 am on a Friday morning, preceded by gospel singers, a police escort, and followed by me and some determined students, and of course Will Mauricette ’24, Film, with his camera capturing all this.”
Mauricette produced a short film and documentary about the house, Reid and his family, and the history of Overtown and Newtown, that will be shown in the screening room section of the house. Ringling Entertainment Design students Shellsea Coe ’24 and Sophie Ruiz ’23 are still hard at work constructing a 3D model of the Overtown and Newtown neighborhoods, populated with both current and nonextant buildings, that will also be displayed inside the house.
Coe and Ruiz have designed a “coming soon” sign that displays the plans for the house. In its final proposed state, a museum and cultural center will be built adjacent to the house, and the house will serve as a museum honoring the family.
This project was made possible by the INDEX program and additional support from the Thompson Creative Leadership Fund. Ringling College and The Patterson Foundation partnered in 2012 with the shared goal to strengthen the creative workforce of tomorrow. INDEX continues the legacy of this partnership by aggregating the myriad experiential learning opportunities the College has long offered.