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Public art tour shares stories of town's early history as told by famous artists

Members of the Lee Arts Educators Association enjoy Fire Dance, a Dupont red aluminum proto-architectural sculpture located in Centennial Park West.
Members of the Lee Arts Educators Association enjoy Fire Dance, a Dupont red aluminum proto-architectural sculpture located in Centennial Park West. Tom Hall, 2013

Guided walking tours continue to gain popularity and momentum. As scores of people are discovering around the globe, walking tours provide an inexpensive yet engaging way to learn about a city's history, gain insight about its people and culture, and get some fresh air, Vitamin D and exercise in casual, fun-filled way.

True Tours offers historic walking, public art and haunted history tours of downtown Fort Myers.
True Tours offers historic walking, public art and haunted history tours of downtown Fort Myers.Courtesy of True Tours

New on the scene in many locales are public art walking tours. Denver has a tour that circumambulates its Golden Triangle Cultural District. In Chicago, Art in the Loop includes stops at works by Picasso, Miro and Chagall. Philadelphia not only has more public art than any city in the world except Paris, but a guided public art walking tour that's as exceptional as its extensive public art collection. Olympia, Washington has one that's sponsored by its Parks, Arts & Recreation Department in partnership with its Arts Commission.

True Tours' Public Art Walking Tour gives folks who don't consider themselves art enthusiasts a novel way to enjoy fascinating stories about Fort Myers' early development that they simply won't hear anywhere else. It's kind of like having Andy Warhol squire you around the Union Square neighborhood where his Factory was located, or Robert Rauschenberg take you bar hopping on Captiva. You're not only going to see some things you wouldn't otherwise see, you'll see them through the unique perspective of artists - people who make a living through their uncanny ability to see people, places and events in unconventional ways.

For example, two downtown artworks tell the story of how a couple of companies of black soldiers kept the fort from which Fort Myers takes its name from being burned to the ground during the Civil War. Muralist Barbara Jo Revelle speculates that had the fort been raized, there may have never been a Fort Myers as we know it today, and she was motivated to tell that tale by an article that appeared in Population Today magazine in 1997 that identified Fort Myers as one of the most segregated cities in the South.

That's not a story politicians and civic leaders go out of their way to tell. Revelle goes as far as suggesting that this chapter in Fort Myers' early history may have even been "suppressed" - although she doesn't say by whom. But whether Revelle is right or wrong is not the point. She offers a unique perspective and tour-takers relish the opportunity to speculate about what might have happened had the Confederate "cow cavalry" won the Battle of Fort Myers and set fire to the fort, leaving no wood for settlers to use in building homes and trading posts in the months following the end of the war between the states.

To ensure that the Public Art Walking Tour is chock full of behind-the-scenes drama and gossip, True Tours guide Tom Hall stays in touch with the medley of internationally-renowned artists who have created the more than 45 public artworks that dot the downtown Fort Myers landscape. Tour-takers also get a taste of what the future of public art in Fort Myers might hold, especially as the city works to reinvent itself as a player in the convention and trade show market through the construction of a 10-story riverfront hotel and attached 120,000-square-foot event center where Harborside stands today.

The Public Art Walking Tour of the downtown Fort Myers River District is offered at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, although special tours leave from the Franklin Shops on other days and times to accommodate groups of eight or more. One such tour takes place at 10:30 tomorrow morning (Tuesday, March 4). For reservations, please call True Tours' owner Gina Taylor at 239-945-0405 or visit www.TrueTours.net.