Art Talk: Karen Bell and Sarasota’s Circus Arts Conservatory

The Circus Arts Conservatory’s mission is to engage and educate students using unique and innovative learning programs, to measurably improve the quality of life for individuals in care facilities and to advance the extraordinary legacy and heritage of the circus. CAC’s mission underscores its commitment to sharing the entertainment, education, and enrichment that circus arts provide.

A Special Message from Circus Arts Conservatory:
Regarding what is going on right now: Circus Arts Conservatory has pivoted its platform and moved online with CAC Connects. We are using new technology to promote our online performances and classes. CAC has been running summer camp on a much smaller scale this year with success while keeping the campers and staff safe and healthy. We are still optimistically planning for our ’20-’21 season, but we are being prudent and monitoring the situation.

Karen Bell

We sat down recently to chat with Karen Bell, a very talented artist and Professional Circus Clown with Sarasota’s Circus Arts Conservatory. Karen joined CAC in 2005 and has been instrumental in progressing CAC’s outreach programs and creating circus arts curriculum and education programs for the Conservatory.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA):  Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Karen: I had no choice! The arts have been a part of me from my early childhood when I made my poor family watch me perform in the living room. Visual arts and performing arts both satisfy my inner self – I find that clowning is a way for me to bring all my talents together into one art form. I am able to create my own costumes and props, write my own material, choose my music and enjoy the audience’s laughter.

Circus Arts Conservatory’s Karen Bell & Robin Eurich performing – photo by Cliff Roles

DCA: How long have you worked in Florida?

Karen: I came to Florida in 1985 to attend Ringling Brothers Clown College. After that I was on the road but I still called Florida my home. I have been back full-time since 2005, when I began working for The Circus Arts Conservatory.

Karen Bell and Robin Eurich performing – photo by Cliff Roles

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Karen: The best part of my job is working with people who are passionate about our mission.

“I have so much respect for Pedro Reis and Dolly Jabobs-Reis and their vision for the future of the @CircusArtsSRQ, as well as the future of #circus as an art form.” – Karen Bell

Clown-Week kicks off with Karen Bell and Robin Eurich – video produced by Richard Czina

Also, it’s great knowing that no two days will be alike. There is always something that comes up… and no two audiences are alike either, from students in the classroom to senior citizens to our circus audiences. I love working with our Sailor Circus Academy and working with the students that are a part of our Circus Arts Magnet program at Sarasota High School, and I am looking forward to the start of a new Magnet program with Sarasota’s  Booker Middle School.

Karen Bell works with a student – photo by Daniel Perales

DCA: Tell us a little bit about your organization. What are you currently working on?

Karen: Since the beginning of the pandemic, performance has been, of course, discontinued. The Conservatory still wanted to finds ways to engage with our audience, so we introduced CAC Connects. Each day we publish content to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. It is also on our website CircusArts.org.

Clowning Elements with Karen and Robin – video produced by Karen Bell

We are sharing everything from past circus performances, to educational videos for elementary students, and exercise classes with our Sailor Circus Academy coaches to keep our Sailor Circus students in shape. We also created an amazing live virtual performance called ‘One World Circus’ with professional, world class circus artists from around the world! What an incredible achievement for us – there were 1,700 people from all over the world watching the performance!

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to your community?

Karen: The CAC touches the lives of people from 0 to 100, and with our Education Program we teach physics, language arts and theater in classrooms across Sarasota, Manatee and Hardy Counties. It’s invaluable to work with middle and high school students through our Magnet program.

Karen Bell working with students at the Sailor Circus Academy – photo by Daniel Perales

Students from the Sailor Circus Academy benefit in many ways through the rigorous training program we provide, not only learning circus skills but learning life skills as well. We bring entertainment, memory stimulation and joy to senior citizens at their senior communities and, of course, during our performances of Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus.

Robin Eurich and Karen Bell work with a student – photo by Daniel Perales

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Karen: Art is not just important to Florida, but to the world! Circus has deep roots in Sarasota, first with John Ringling bringing the Ringling Bros’ Winter Quarters here and then other circuses followed suit. When Ringling came, his arrival also brought culture to Sarasota; he and his wife Mabel were great art lovers, and they would bring back famous pieces with them when traveling Europe which are now housed in the Ringling Museum. Many cultural arts programs followed soon after.

Slappy and Monday headlining at the Summer Circus Spectacular – video produced by Starfruit Productions

DCA: Is there anything you would like to add?

Karen: As the future is still questionable for the performing arts, we are continuing to be relevant. The CAC will be in schools teaching Circus Science virtually, and we will hopefully be bringing back our Sailor Circus students to start training in our newly renovated and well maintained arena. Our performances will happen again this year, but in what form we are not sure. But rest assured, we will continue to preserve the art of the circus!

The Division thanks Karen Bell and Circus Arts Conservatory for their participation in this interview. For more info about CAC and their programs, be sure to visit their website at www.circusarts.org.
Also, be sure to check out more videos from Clown Week on their YouTube, Facebook and Instagram @ CircusArtsSRQ.

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