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Gulf & Main Magazine

Galleries Galore: Art Scene is Crucial Aspect of Local Economy

Aug 28, 2017 05:41PM ● By Kevin
If art cleanses our souls, then Fort Myers is a good place to be rejuvenated with its diverse range of galleries and visual artists in all mediums, classical and visionary. The city is the nexus of regular events that nudge art viewers from the confines of their comfort zones, along with organizations and alliances that advocate and educate, and growing collaborations.

In addition to the esoteric and aesthetic boost that art provides, it is also a significant boost for the local economy. Together in its many forms, the nonprofit arts and culture industry in Lee County produces $140.1 million in annual economic activity—supporting 3,875 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $18.8 million in government revenues.

These impressive figures were revealed in June by the Lee County Alliance for the Arts as part of the nationwide Arts & Economic Prosperity survey conducted by Americans for the Arts. “This study definitively confirms that the arts mean business. The arts inspire us and entertain us, but what is less known is that they’re a crucial aspect of our economy,” says Alliance for the Arts executive director Lydia Black. “The arts are an investment that delivers both community well-being and economic vitality.”

This is a sentiment passionately shared by Sharon McAllister, executive director of ArtFest Fort Myers, a nationally ranked, juried fine-arts festival heading into its 18th season, featuring 200 artists and drawing 90,000 attendees. Art builds community, McAllister says, by bringing people together, encouraging creative thinking about community challenges and inspiring new ideas. “Supporting the arts defines the kind of community in which we wish to live and raise our children.”

Here are select galleries that have become regional destinations or offer a thoughtful array of works sure to wash away the day’s dust:


10091 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers 
Lee County Alliance for the Arts began humbly in 1975 in the same spot on McGregor Boulevard where it is today. The nonprofit arts agency has grown to 50-plus arts and cultural organizations and 1,200 members. It opened its doors to 133,000 visitors last year for workshops, exhibitions, summer camps, gift shoppers, special events and audiences at the Claiborne and Ned Foulds Theater.

Its important profile will be emphasized in October when ground is broken for a cutting-edge public art installation, the 25-foot-tall “Caloosahatchee Water Wall,” along the west side of the retention pond on the 10-acre campus. Michael Singer’s landscape sculpture is made of blue anodized and perforated aluminum, powered by solar panels, and will filter the pond’s water. Included will be an “outdoor room,” new sidewalks, lighting and plantings.

“Water quality is a relevant topic,” explains executive director Lydia Black. “Our job is to provide a warm and welcoming place. We are using our front yard as a showcase and gateway to the city.”


8099 College Parkway, Fort Myers

Thanks to Jade Dellinger, this insightful sentiment from world-renowned artist Robert Rauschenberg hasn’t been lost to obscurity: “Fort Myers is as small as your mind is. It can be just as large as the world is.” Rauschenberg’s half-century presence on Captiva had the same effect on the local cultural scene as inventor Thomas A. Edison’s seasonal presence made on the community at large.

Rauschenberg made a deeper connection when he worked with architects and administrators at the community college in Fort Myers, now called Florida SouthWestern State College, to create a gallery. It opened in 1979 and Rauschenberg launched a solo exhibit the following year—the first of 15 exhibits that included some world premieres.

“That an artist of Rauschenberg's stature and historical significance engaged so deeply with our faculty, staff and students through this gallery, and ultimately gave us his name, certainly separates and distinguishes us from other university museums or college-based galleries,” says Dellinger, FSW’s director of exhibitions and collections.

In his four years curating exhibits, Dellinger has drawn national attention to the contemporary, often commissioned projects created site-specifically for the gallery by the likes of Yoko Ono, MacArthur “genius” Ann Hamilton, and Academy Award-nominated actor James Franco. “We do not accept unsolicited proposals directly from artists, but are closely connected with a vast network of colleagues at prominent museums and galleries around the world,” notes Dellinger.
“FluZusic: Fluxus MUSEic” (with interactive sound-related installations and performances) runs from Aug. 25 to Nov. 11. Fluxus artists experimented with site-specific and participatory sound projects in the 1960s and ’70s; John Lennon and Ono were pioneers.

It’s not the type of gallery where you can drop in to select a piece for the living room; rather, it’s a special place inspired by an artist who broke all post-war boundaries but still found community here.


2633 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Fort Myers 

We had the late Robert Rauschenberg in our midst, and today we have Marcus Jansen. Trying to keep up with this Fort Myers-based painter—who developed a singular art form that’s come to be known as urban expressionism—is like participating in back-to-back triathlons.
Since this summer, he’s been off to Art Basel Switzerland; Saint Tropez, France; and Munich, to launch a solo exhibit that will travel Germany and Austria. Autumn will find him showing at the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco.

Last fall, Jansen relocated his Unit A studio and gallery into a historic warehouse in the Dunbar community—one with 20-foot ceilings and wide enough doors to accommodate his large-scale works. Jansen keeps size in mind when sending pieces to Milan or Munich, so the innovative painter may create a diptych or triptych that can be “put together as a larger work, like a puzzle,” he says.

Jansen was raised bilingually by his German father and West Indian mother, and attended public school in Germany. He earned a reputation in the 1980s in the New York graffiti scene before serving as in the U.S. Army in the Gulf War, and returned forever changed by post-traumatic stress disorder. So he picked up his paints again.

His show “Aftermath” explores themes of the war and its “desolate environment, which is not only beset by natural disasters, but also suffers from humankind's exposure to epochal upheavals such as 9/11 and the real estate bubble,” according to the gallery.

“My general medication has always been my art. My painting is my lifeline. Painting is a result of me surviving,” he says. “Regardless of commercial success, if you’re a painter, it’s something you have to do.”

Jansen’s works fetch $2,500 to $100,000. Two deluxe books explore his career, including Decade, which examines the last 10 years of Jansen’s 20-year journey. And local fans, mark your calendar: A major retrospective of his work is coming May through July 2018 at Baker Museum of Art in Naples.


1400 Colonial Blvd., Suite 84, Fort Myers 

The Union Artist Studios

10051 McGregor Blvd./Edwards Building, Suite 202, Fort Myers

Multi-dimensional artist David Acevedo in the mid-2000s had a studio and gallery, but he and artist Xavier Brignoni struck out to create something bigger than themselves: a pair of artists’ cooperatives in Fort Myers.

Acevedo initially founded DAAS (David Acevedo Art Studio) in 2006, and operated a gallery in the downtown River District until pulling out 2012. Acevedo is also a co-founder of the wildly successful Art Walk on first Fridays in the downtown district.

Since the two men set up shop on the campus of the Lee County Alliance for the Arts and in a much larger gallery in the neighboring Royal Palm Square, new universes have opened. “The local art scene is very powerful. Every day, every week, I meet new artists doing amazing work,” says Acevedo, 41. “There’s a synergy of art and creativity in this [Colonial/McGregor] area that is unbelievable.”

Acevedo has two excellent locations to discover Southwest Florida’s hot artists―The Union Artist Studios where nine artists share space in the Edwards Building on the Alliance campus along McGregor Boulevard, the newer and much larger DAAS CO-OP in the Royal Palm Square complex on Colonial that’s anchored by the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. “The original idea was to open up for other artists. I knew a bunch of my friends were looking for studio space,” Acevedo says of the DAAS CO-OP gallery that features the works of 25 or so artists and artisans with prices ranging from $25 to thousands. “There’s a huge variety. Having so many artists allows us to do that because they are at different levels in their career and expertise.”

DAAS CO-OP and The Union Artist Studios also participate in the newly launched SoCo (South of Colonial) Second Saturday events highlighting the bursting cultural attractions south of Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers. The idea is to stroll the Alliance campus and the Royal Palm complex, visiting the galleries and local shops, grab an afterglow at the Broadway Palm as the evening winds down.


2265 First St., Fort Myers 

If you want eclectic, visit Arts for ACT Gallery and Boutique. “We have original art, giclées, limited-edition prints, crafts, jewelry, photography, gourd and fiber art, clay and artist-designed clothing and purses,” declares Claudia Goode, who curates the gallery and runs human resources for the nonprofit Abuse Counseling and Treatment (ACT) Center. “You can find realism, surrealism, impressionism, abstraction, whimsical, pop art to low-brow.”

Arts for ACT Gallery is an offshoot of the annual ACT Fine Art Auction that fundraises for the domestic abuse shelter. The gallery carries the works of some 50 artists, has two featured guest artists monthly and an auction preview in October. Sales support local artists and the center.

The main gallery is booked through 2018; the side gallery is booked through 2017. The gallery participates in the River District Alliance’s monthly Art Walk, Music Walk and other events. “Fort Myers has a very strong art and culture scene. We started with about five galleries on our very first Fort Myers Art Walk nine years ago, to now having over 14 galleries just in the River District,” says Goode. “It is evolving. With the growth of downtown, we will have more residents and tourists, thus bringing more patrons into the establishments.”

Written by Cathy Chestnut, a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to TOTI Media who explores the people and places that make Southwest Florida, her hometown stomping ground, unique.