The Ringling breaks attendance records

The Ringling opened the David F. Bolger Playspace in January.

Thinking of visiting The Ringling? You are not alone.

The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art enjoyed a record number of visitors totaling 384,323 during its 2013-2014 fiscal year, which was a 12 percent increase from 2012-2013 and 27 percent more than 2011-2012. The trend of increased attendance continued with the new season as The Ringling welcomed 40,479 visitors in July, which was a 13 percent increase from the previous year. The Ringling’s fiscal year begins on July 1.

“There is always something new to see and do at The Ringling,” said Steven High, executive director of The Ringling. “While we will always be known for our Old Master collection and circus roots, museum staff have focused on improving our visitor’s experience, and we have completed some fantastic new projects, which our attendance numbers show have really resonated with our visitors.”

One of the museum’s most successful projects is pure fun. In January, The Ringling opened the David F. Bolger Playspace, an innovative playground attraction featuring a three-story slide, bucket swings and a splash area. The Playspace offers a place for children to unwind after touring the museum while provides a gathering spot for summer campers or student groups visiting the museum. Visitors do not have to purchase admission to the museum to use the Playspace.

The addition of the Playspace is a part of The Ringling’s greater focus on the grounds and gardens of the 66-acre estate. The Ringling also launched a docent-led tour of the Bayfront Gardens in January to provide a history of some of the estate’s staples such as Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden and the banyan trees, while showcasing some of the less well-known flora on campus. The Gardens have become another gallery for the museum to curate with the installation of the Leonard Ursachi statue “Fat Boy” for temporary viewing on The Ringling’s Millennium Trail.

These additions fit the director’s vision of a vibrant museum that continuously provides fresh experiences for guests, while popular contemporary art exhibitions have helped to draw a steady stream of visitors to the Museum of Art regardless of the season. These included:

• “Icons of Style” wowed visitors from October 2013 to January 2014. The collection of trend-setting fashions and the sketches used to create them explored art in the popular culture, andallowed visitors to “walk the red carpet” for an up-close view of dresses they recognized from Oscar night.

• “R. Luke DuBois — Now” provided the Sarasota-Bradenton market the opportunity to witness the New York-based artist’s first museum solo exhibition from January to May 2014. Using computer-generated data as his medium, DuBois creates art that provides insight into the present. The exhibition included a commissioned work that honored The Ringling’s circus legacy, while looking to the future.

• “Intent to Deceive: Fakes and Forgeries in the Art World” explored the underground world of the counterfeit art market from May to August 2014. By shining the light on the works and careers of five famous forgers, this exhibition challenged visitors to consider the question: what is art?

Circus wonder continued to draw crowds to The Ringling. On May 5, several posters from Howard Tibbals permanent collection were unveiled as the basis for a collection of U.S. Postage Stamps. The Tibbals Learning Center continues to be one of the most popular and interactive experiences on campus.

“A record number of visitors have discovered that The Ringling is the destination for world-class art, circus wonder and just plain fun,” High said.

The Ringling also sought to better engage with its digital audience by launching a new website last December. Developed in partnership with Sarasota based AtLarge Inc., the new provides guests with a virtual tour of The Ringling’s campus so that they can better plan their visits, while providing scholars with a portal into The Ringling’s vast permanent collection.

In 2000, the Florida legislature placed the stewardship of The Ringling under Florida State University.FSU has a long tradition of excellence in the arts and, in the College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance, contains some of the leading arts programs in the nation.The Ringling cultural campus is also home to the Sarasota Ballet, Asolo Repertory Theatre and FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training making it one of the largest college arts complexes in the country.