Ten Years of Art Walking: Southwest Florida’s Most Popular Art Crawl Celebrates Its First Decade
Art Walk organizers kicked off the downtown Fort Myers event in October 2008.
It happened 10 years ago, but it seems like yesterday. Miami transplant Greg Knezevich started conversations with some art gallery owners in downtown Fort Myers about joining forces to create an event that would draw attention to the galleries in the area. Knezevich had just opened his own gallery on Hough Street, just a few minutes away from the core of the city. Meanwhile, Arts for ACT director Claudia Goode had met Knezevich and discussed possibilities for a coalition of art spaces nearby.
It did not take long for Knezevich to find us. We were amazed at the alignment of planets happening on that rainy day in August 2008 when he told us he had spoken to a local tattoo and visual artist named Andy Howl, who was looking for a space to open his art gallery/tattoo shop. Howl would soon become a vital part of this group. Goode was on board and so were other prominent figures active in the arts community such as Terry Tincher and Jim Griffith. We all had similar ideas and the desire to collaborate. As I see it, we were meant to find each other to create something great, and we did.At about the same time, Xavier Brignoni and I inaugurated daas Gallery on Broadway Street. We had seen the success of a city art event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, called Noches de Galeria (Gallery Nights) and thought the concept was perfect for downtown Fort Myers. Later conversations with Happenings magazine editor Jamie Kuser instigated even more ideas about a possible event. Unknowingly, we were all concocting the same potion.
Sometime later that month in 2008, gallerists, future gallery owners and other enthusiastic collaborators met at Knezevich’s La Casa del Arte to talk about “the idea.” For a little over an hour, we brainstormed and shared our thoughts on what this event would or should be, and what it meant for us and the community. Then, as if it had always been there, Art Walk emerged. If I have ever been in a meeting where all brains were connected in an imaginary network of neurons, this was it. We were finishing each other’s sentences.
From that first meeting, important and iconic parts of Art Walk were proposed and established, including the event name, map, website concept and inaugural date. A collectible button was proposed as well, as an offering to everyone who visited. Little did we know that this meeting would forever change the history of downtown Fort Myers and would help propel other projects, leading to the ongoing revitalization and redevelopment of the downtown area.
It may have been inexperience, or perhaps impatience, but we all thought it was a good idea to inaugurate the event on the first Friday of October 2008. In two short months, the Fort Myers Art Walk was a reality. The first event successfully brought more than 1,000 art crawlers to the downtown streets.
Griffith had just acquired the former Federal Building on First Street and was in the process of restoring it. He recognized the potential impact of this new event for the future Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center (SBDAC) and the downtown area. “Downtown Fort Myers was still mostly vacant, and most of the now popular restaurants and shops did not exist yet,” recalls Griffith, who is also an accomplished violin player and arts supporter. “We had not even finished our renovations yet, but we were determined to have a show ready,” recalls Griffith about the first Art Walk night. “We didn’t have any art to show yet, so I brought about dozen pieces of art from our house and put them on easels because we didn’t even have walls to hang art on yet.”
Some think that over the past decade the event has drastically changed. Although some art venues, such as the SBDAC, have grown in popularity, some people see a shift in the original focus of the event. “As soon as the city of Fort Myers began closing the streets, the event became more of a street party than a cultural destination inside the galleries,” says Goode, who still directs the Arts for ACT Gallery. Kuser agrees and believes it is difficult to have Art Walk without art galleries. Many of the original galleries have closed or relocated outside of the downtown district. Nonetheless, he concludes, “I am proud to be part of its creation with some very talented people.”
Regardless of how the event has changed, everyone involved in the inception wishes for its continued success. Cheers for the first 10 years!
David Acevedo is an award-winning visual artist, arts writer, gallery owner and curator living in Cape Coral, Florida. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. Acevedo is the founder and president of the DAAS Co-op Art Gallery & Gifts, located in Royal Palm Square in Fort Myers.