The salon was a 16th century Italian concept, which flourished in France in the 17th and 18th centuries as well-heeled individuals increasingly hosted the artistic gatherings at their homes. The practice continued into the 20th century, with openly lesbian writer Gertrude Stein famously welcoming luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to her home.
William Riddle — affectionately known as Willie — is the president of Inspired Interiors of Fort Lauderdale and the founder of the Venetian Arts Society (VAS), which promotes both visual and performing arts through a new interpretation of the classic salon.
“Our goal is to offer everyone in our community, whether novice or connoisseur, the rare and extraordinary opportunity to observe and interact with local and international artists of all disciplines,” says Riddle.
It’s no surprise that he would take on such an effort. His long and varied career in the performing arts included studying music and theater at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music and managing a dinner theater in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, before turning his attention to interior design.
In 2010 Riddle opened an art gallery and design studio in downtown Fort Lauderdale along with former interior design client, Stephanie Knight. The pair decided to invite their target clientele to spend an evening with artists and other like-minded art enthusiasts. The idea was to host these salons every few months, but they proved to be so popular that they became a monthly affair and, soon after, turned into the main focus. Just like that the salon was reborn.
When Knight had to step out of her role, Riddle continued the work. “I realized that influential art enthusiasts would support this initiative. It seemed to be filling a void in our community…a void that no one knew existed,” he says. “I honestly feel that my life has been building to this point all along, and I accidentally wandered onto the right path.”
Throughout its six-year history, VAS has organized monthly salons featuring top level talent. The events take place in art galleries, historical venues, artists’ studios and even some private homes. Local talent, as well as visiting artists, provide guests with the opportunity to experience a variety of art forms in an intimate and interactive setting.
This season VAS will present two innovative programming options: Up Close & Personal and Café Society. The Up Close & Personal salons will feature internationally renowned opera, jazz and musical theater performers at the NSU Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. Café Society, which takes its inspiration from the fashionable supper clubs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, will showcase popular performers at a variety of restaurants throughout South Florida.
The latest VAS venture is a partnership with John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, where the salon experience will be taken directly to the community’s residents, while remaining open to the general public. These events will begin with a wine social, followed by a concert and a post-performance dessert and Champagne reception with artists.
Riddle feels this is just the beginning for his growing organization. “In 10 years I see VAS as the most prestigious cultural arts organization in South Florida,” he says. “Presenting performance experiences in all of the fine arts, celebrating all ethnicities, cultures, and lifestyles, and working to unify all of our community through the emotional experience of art.”
Upcoming VAS Events
John Knox Village
The Chopin salons of Warsaw and Paris are recreated with pianist Margarita Shevchenko and an art display by the Abington Auction Gallery.
Christmas in the Village! with performances by Richard Troxell, the New Presbyterian Church choir with Mark Aliopoulous on piano and Esther Underhay on harp, and legendary opera star Renata Scotto.
Café Society presents a performance of Million Dollar Quartet by Tony Award-winning singer and actor, Levi Kreis.