Our History

1949


The Sailor Circus was founded in 1949 by Bill Rutland as part of the Sarasota High School gymnastics program

1950

Due to increasing popularity and audience attendance, the Sailor Circus moved to the football field at Sarasota High School and added center poles to perform aerial acts in open air

1952

James A. Haley, an official of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus®, secured permission for this student circus to use the world-famous copyright title with the addition of one word “Little”, from then on Sailor Circus was called “The Greatest “Little” Show On Earth”

Warner Bros. Pictures filmed a 30-minute short in color, which was shown in movie theaters throughout the country, which established the Sailor Circus’ fame nationally and internationally

1964

Three high school performers appear as guests on the national TV show hosted by Ted Mack “The Original Amateur Hour”, the precursors to “America’s Got Talent” or “American Idol”

Performer Donna Meyers becomes the youngest girl in the world to complete the double somersault on the flying trapeze

1967

Sailor Circus gets its permanent home on Bahia Vista Street, in Sarasota, Florida.

Five circus acts are featured on the national TV show, “The Mike Douglas Show”, the nation’s most popular variety show.

1973

The Sailor Circus travels to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a six-week performance tour

1976

The Sailor Circus appears on the nation’s most popular morning TV show, the “Today Show” with Barbara Walters

The Sailor Circus marches and performs in the nationally televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City

1981

Construction of a new permanent facility, The Sailor Circus Arena, is completed, and has since become an icon in Sarasota, Florida

The new Sailor Circus Arena’s expansion to the circus site we have today, enables year-round practice, rain or shine

1985

The Sailor Circus spends 43 days performing at Mitsui Greenland Park near Fukuoka, Japan

1988

Merle Evans and the “Windjammers” begin an annual tradition with the Sailor Circus, performing each January at the Sailor Circus Arena.

The Sailor Circus travels to Lima, Peru for a five-week performance tour.

1994

Five more buildings are added to campus to house props, provide dressing rooms and a showcase museum of Sailor Circus history

1997

The Sarasota Sailor Circus Foundation, Inc. is established to ensure the continued success of Sailor Circus and provide financial support to our students who continue their education

1999

The Sailor Circus celebrates its 50th anniversary

2004

The Sailor Circus is no longer a subsidiary of the Sarasota County School Board, and now falls under the operations of the Police Athletic League of Sarasota County, Inc

2006

Sailor Circus launches a capital campaign to raise funds for a complete renovation of the Sailor Circus Arena and facilities

2011

Circus Sarasota inherits the Sailor Circus Program & Campus

2012

Circus Sarasota renovates offices at the Bahia Vista campus to house the combined circus families.

2013

The organization rebrands as The Circus Arts Conservatory, stewarding the nation’s longest running youth Circus The Sailor Circus Academy as well as its’ other continuing outreaching programs

2016

Sailor Circus Academy students, as part of The Circus Arts Conservatory’s partnership with The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, have been invited to present and perform on the National Mall in Washington DC during summer of 2017 .

2017

After 2-years of planning and preparation, The CAC co-presents the 50th Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

2018

Construction begins on the $4.5 million Sailor Circus Arena renovation.

2019

The $4.5 million interior renovation of the Sailor Circus Arena is completed – featuring state of-the-art retractable stadium seating, lighting and sound systems, enhanced performance flooring, full ADA compliant bathrooms, new concession area and AIR CONDITIONING.