History - From Our Web Site By Tom Halbert

History Cultural Coast Sister Cities

Sarasota, on Florida’s Cultural Coast is home to the greatest concentration of natural beauty, art museums and galleries; an abundance of theaters; performing halls featuring orchestra, opera, choruses; film production, and educational centers that make this remarkable city an important venue of creativity. The wealth of cultural resources and creativity in Sarasota match well with the diversity of our sister cities relationships that began in 1963 in response to President Dwight Eisenhower’s vision to enhance worldwide understanding one handshake at a time. Sarasota’s citizen diplomats are involved daily in sister city outreach building bridges toward world peace.

In 2002, Sister Cities International awarded the Sarasota Sister City Association a best “overall achievement” award in bringing together all of our sister cities into a three-dimensional relationship. To celebrate Sarasota’s Centenary and also sign the Dunfermline twinning, members from all cities, many of them participating in home stays, gathered in Sarasota to get to know one another. The City of Sarasota, under the aegis of former president Hope Byrnes, has planted a tree for every Sister City where they can be enjoyed on the Island Walk in Bay Front Park.

Also at the beginning of the walk is a beautiful, hand-tiled sign, crafted and donated by the students and teachers of Englewood Elementary School and dedicated to our newest Sister City of Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico

Santo Domingo—Our First Sister City

Dallas Dort founded the first chapter of Sister Cities with a Sarasota-Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic twinning in 1963, after a robust relationship had already developed. Unfortunately, a military coup in late 1963 installed a junta that was eventually overthrown, but the relationship was adversely affected.  Wells Purmort, a long-term member accepted the presidency in 1976 spurring activities that incorporated baseball tournaments involving Sarasota, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and Santo Domingo. Other exchanges during this period involved Scout organizations, Rotary, Kiwanis, aid to Santo Domingo after a devastating hurricane, and introductions to business people. Santo Domingo was given emeritus status in 2002, and today they enjoy a fruitful Sister City relationship with Miami and New York City.  

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada—Our Oldest Active Sister City

In 1990 Sarasota twinned with Hamilton, Ontario, Canada to encourage more visitors to Sarasota and to build good will with our neighbors to the North.  Hamilton Mayor Bob Morrow was instrumental in initiating the twinning. Hamilton boasts a diversity that combines education, culture and sightseeing attractions with business and commerce, especially steel manufacturing.  

We have exchanged American Legion baseball teams, TV news anchors, student video camps, arts, cultural, plus historical, horticulture and marine interests through Spanish Point, Selby Gardens and Mote Marine. Hamilton is home to world class McMaster University, the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Nautical Institute and the Art Gallery of Hamilton.  Hamilton and Sarasota have exchanged television news anchors, hosted the John Laing Singers and celebrated the 20th year anniversary of the Sister City relationship with Hamilton by hosting the volunteers from Hamilton’s Westfield Heritage Village at Sarasota’s historic Spanish Point.  Hamilton businesses also participate in the Sarasota-Manatee Trade Show.

Perpignan, France—the Genesis of the Sarasota Film Festival

In 1994 Sarasota twinned with Perpignan, Pyrénées-Orientales, France.  The official signing in Sarasota was by Sarasota Mayor Nora Patterson and the Vice Mayor of Perpignan, Dominique Schemia.
On September 7, 1995 an official signing was held in Perpignan Mayor Jean-Paul Alduly, and Sarasota Mayor David Merrill. The tie was initiated by Alain Taulere who had a home in Perpignan and Sarasota and owned the Cafe of the Arts in Sarasota.  He was very prominent in organizing the French Film Festival in Sarasota, which evolved into the prestigious Sarasota Film Festival. Perpignan is situated on the Mediterranean coast of France and straddles the Catalan border of Spain. The Catalan culture is dominant in the culture and cuisine. Sarasota and Perpignan have hosted many activities over the years, particularly with students involved in exchange visits. A close relationship with the Alliance Française has facilitated many activities including scholarship opportunities.  In 2010, the Sarasota-Perpignan program “Sustainable Development - Energy” won a Sister Cities International award for innovation.

Vladimir, Oblast, Federation of Russia—Theater, Venice Schools & Rotary Ties

In l994 Sarasota twinned with Vladimir, the part of Oblast Russia, because of a tie between the Rotary Club of the Keys and a new club in Vladimir which continues today. On October 29, 1994, City of Sarasota Mayor Nora Patterson led a delegation to Vladimir for the first official signing of the partnership agreement. In April of 1995, a year that marked the Millennium Anniversary of the City of Vladimir, Mayor Igor Shimov led a large delegation for the official signing in Sarasota.

The City of Vladimir is renowned as the first capital of ancient Russia and is a part of the Golden Ring of ancient cities with a rich culture and history.  It dates back to the 1100’s with today’s focus on development of tourist attractions while maintaining an impressive focus on the arts and education as well as industry. Vladimir students frequently have been chosen winners in the Florida Studio Theatre’s annual Young Playwright competition, and visit Sarasota to be honored and see their play presented by professional actors. Yelena Bychkovski, a Vladimir city employee involved in international relations, became an advance degree student at the University of Florida after learning of our educational opportunities by involvement with former Mayor and mentor Lu Ann Palmer.   

Tel Mond, Israel—A Jewish Federation/Betty Schoenbaum Imitative

In 1999 Tel Mond, Israeli Sharon, Israel became a new Sarasota sister city. Many interested people in Sarasota jumped on board, including philanthropist Betty Schoenbaum, who donated a library to Tel Mond. The agreement was signed by Mayor Shlomo Ratzabi and Sarasota Mayor Molly Cardamone. The official signing in Tel Mond was by Sarasota Mayor Gene Pilot and Mayor Shlomo Ratzabi.  
A 10th anniversary ceremony was conducted in Tel Mond with a delegation visit led by Mayor Lu Ann Palmer and Commissioner Ken Shelin.  Like Sarasota, it is a growing community which supports cultural interests and similar population demographics. Sarasota has had a long history of intense interaction with Tel Mond through many prominent Sarasota citizens and the Sarasota Manatee Jewish Federation who have helped in the development of this vibrant city. Tel Mond is a thriving regional center with an emphasis on arts, culture and education situated in the midst of orange groves and productive farm land. Tel Mond’s impressive arts and education program is evidenced in the submissions to elementary school art projects that involved all of Sarasota sister cities.  In 1997, four Sarasota high school students, including one from the Sailor Circus traveled to Tel Mond for a youth exchange.  Tel Mond has participated in many cross cultural visits over the years, including Boy Scouts, the award-winning Video Boot Camp and the Sister City International Art Show, the International Photography competition, the Florida Studio Playwriting competition, which has been won several times by youngsters from Tel Mond.  Tel Mond was the first Sarasota Sister City to have a song written about the relationship between the two cities. Sid Krupkin, a SCAS member, and Elie Matstree of Tel Mond combined to compose “Sarasota and Tel Mond” which features their musical talents combined with singing by school children from both cities.

Dunfermline, Scotland—Our Centennial Sister City

Sarasota was first chartered in 1903 by a group of Scottish businessmen and in 2002, Dunfermline, located in West Fife; the ancient capital of Scotland became Sarasota’s sixth Sister City during ceremonies at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center.   The Asolo Theater contains the stage and interior décor from the turn-of-the-century Dunfermline Scotland Opera House.  In 2002, a framed, full-size rubbing of Robert the Bruce was donated to the Asolo and can be seen there today.  The 10th Anniversary of this twinning was held at the Silver Thistle Ball at the Bird Bay Yacht Club in February 2012, jointly sponsored by the Caledonian Club of West Florida and Sister Cities Association of Sarasota.

Many projects are supported by alliance members including the Royal St. Andrew Society and the Caledonian Club of West Florida. Riverview High School has the ‘Kiltie Band,” a pipe band and the famous Scottish metal sculptor, Malcolm Robertson, makes his winter home in Sarasota.  His sculptures can be seen in Scotland, at the Fruitville Library, at the traffic circle on south Manasota Key and occasionally at the annual Season of Sculpture on the Sarasota Bayfront.  
The twinning was based on Sarasota being founded by Scots and the historical significance of John Gillespie, a Scot, being the first mayor of Sarasota and builder of the first golf course in Sarasota. Dunfermline is the ancient capital of Scotland and is the final resting place of King Robert the Bruce and the birthplace of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  Dunfermline is just across the bridge from Edinburg and a cat jump to St. Andrews, the world famous home of golf.  Students from Treviso come to Sarasota each year as winners of the Florida Studio Young Playwrights competition.

Treviso Province, Italy—Summer Vacation Haven for Venice, Italy

In 2007 Treviso Province, Veneto, Italy, located between Venice and the Adriatic and the foothills of the Italian Alps, became twinned with Sarasota.  The province of Treviso is one of Europe’s most dynamic growth regions. In addition to its art and history treasures, the province of Treviso is considered to be the most dynamic in Italy. Treviso and the Veneto region in which it is located have enjoyed one of Europe’s highest rates of economic growth. One of the important ties between the 95-community province and Sarasota is the Historic Asolo Theater which was the Opera House of Queen Cornaro in the town of Asolo, Italy.
It was on the stage of the Historic Asolo Theater were the partnership was signed between Mayor Fredd Atkins and the President of Treviso Province Leonardo Muraro on February 29, 2007.The twinning has resulted in a rich, active exchange program aided by interest of alliance organizations such as the Ausonia Society and Sarasota Italian Cultural Events.  The winner of our 2009 People and Places Photography Contest involving all our Sister Cities was Treviso artist Cristina Madeyski with her “Magic Reflections - Treviso on the Sile River” entry.  This led to a subsequent showing of her work at the Selby Auditorium on the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus in February 2012.  Frequent tours to locations suggested by Provincial President Muraro have attracted Sarasota residents to Treviso Province highlighting the Pearls of the Province of Treviso for necklaces of memories. And the highlights of the Culture Coast have attracted numerous visits from residents and officials of the province to Sarasota.  

Xiamen (Siming District), Fujian Province, China

In 2007 Xiamen (Siming District), Fujian Province, China became twinned with Sarasota.  An enthusiastic Sarasota delegation led by Mayor Lou Ann Palmer participated in signing ceremonies in Xiamen during June 5-11, 2007.  The signing came after an extensive search. Located along a mountainous coast, across the straits of Taiwan in Southeastern China,  Xiamen was recognized as a likely sister city by Dr. Carolyn Bloomer, a professor at the Ringling College of Art,  a regular visitor to China and a dedicated group of sinologists. China has such large cities that it was difficult to find a pairing that was right for Sarasota. Several Chinese-American Associations also participate in this pairing. The final signing was conducted by Mayor Lu Ann Palmer at a public ceremony on the evening of October 9 in the old Federal Building in downtown Sarasota.
Xiamen was ranked as China’s second “most suitable city for living” in 2006, as well as China’s “most romantic leisure city” in 2011.   Xiamen is a convention city with an annual international trade fair, a sports center for golf, water-sports & martial arts and holds the Xiamen International Marathon each March; a wealth of cultural & education resources including degree programs in Hospitality Management, visual art, artists & public art displays, symphony orchestras, opera companies, jazz groups; and a center for health care, sports medicine, complementary medicine.  Xiamen has a major international airport & seaport designated as a Special Economic Zone for foreign trade; a high level of economic development with opportunities for joint investment, real estate & joint ventures; agriculture, aquaculture, horticulture, and marine biology.  Recently, an “Exchange of Artists” program was begun in 2009 when Sarasota hosted two artists from China for two weeks.  In May, 2011, two local artists, Robert Farber and Julio Rodriguez, were chosen by a panel of local jurors and traveled to Xiamen for two weeks where they, too, were hosted by local families and experienced the Chinese art community. 

Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico—Our Newest Sister City

On December 19, 2010, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico was twinned with Sarasota. Mayors Angélica Araujo Lara of Mérida and Kelly Kirschner of Sarasota signed the official twinning documents in the Courtyard of the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art.  
Located 180 miles west of Cancun in the Yucatán Peninsula the two cities have many similarities including being located near the Gulf of Mexico, having tropical climates, being a regional center for commerce and higher education and sharing a love for culture and the arts. This colonial city on the Yucatán Peninsula is the ideal spot from which to explore important Maya archaeological sites like Chechen Itza and Uxmal. The city has one of the largest historical centers in the Americas with many of the Spanish colonial buildings from its wealthy past remaining. Mérida is one of eight safe and popular marquee tourist spots that is exempt from U.S. State Department cautions against non-essential travel in Mexico. Latino Excellence of Sarasota, an alliance member of Sister Cities Association of Sarasota, conducted the first exchange custom tour from Sarasota on July 23, 2012 providing a unique opportunity to experience Mayan Life and Ancient Cities near our newest Sister City. The fully guided tour featured intimate close experiences including participating in sacred Maya ceremonies with Maya Priests and Healers.

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Tom Halbert, 

Past President

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