The Fort Myers Public Art Committee heard presentations on Wednesday from two nonprofit groups that are proposing public art projects that will be temporarily displayed at various locations throughout the downtown Fort Myers River District.
The Art League of Fort Myers is proposing Turtle Crawl, a project in which local businesses purchase a five foot tall fiberglass turtle and then commission one or more artists to convert the cast into a colorful, creative work of art. After weatherproofing, the turtles are placed on display as an open art exhibit either in front of their restaurant, shop or office or in other popular places around downtown, such as the newly-completed 1.8 acre river basin. The Public Works Department will site the turtles and make sure they are properly anchored and installed.
"The turtles will be in place from October to May of 2014," Art League President Zaki Knapen told the Public Art Committee. "At the end of the season, the turtles will be auctioned off, with the proceeds being donated to Turtle Time for the preservation of sea turtles."
According to Knapen, the project will attract both local residents and tourists to the River District, promote the arts and participating local artists, and benefit the environment by encouraging sea turtle preservation.
The Art League's turtles may be competing for space downtown and at the River Basin with seahorses. At least that's the plan presented at Wednesday's meeting by A Seahorse Dream, a year-long nonprofit fundraising project in which Lee Memorial Health System Foundation, Montage Women's Club and Saints & Sinners Men's Club are teaming up to raise money for the new Golisano Childrens's Hospital of Southwest Florida, which will provide medical care to children in the five-county area that includes Lee, Collier, Hendry, Charlotte and DeSoto counties.
"This memorable, media-worthy event will be a fun way to raise funds for the new hospital," Irma Spencer of A Seahorse Dream told the Public Art Committee. Like the Art League's sea turtles, each of the seahorses will stand five feet tall and weigh 90 pounds.
"The first herd of seahorses is due in July, and we'll begin displaying seahorses around Southwest Florida in February. Then they'll be auctioned at a gala on March 7, 2014 that will be held at the Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa."
Sponsorships are available in three levels (Platinum, Gold and Silver), and sponsors select a design for their seahorse from artist sketches provided by the program committee. A call for artists has already been issued, and each contributing artist will receive an honorarium for his or her creation, with the public enjoying a wide variety of seahorse artworks ranging from formal to whimsical.
The group hopes to raise more than $100,000. "The money we raise will be matched by Thomas Golisano up to $20 million," Spencer told the Committee. Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida is the only acute care children’s hospital between Tampa and Miami. It opened in 1994 within HealthPark Medical Center, and its name was changed to the Golisano Children’s Hospital in 2012.
The primary fundraising entity for the Golisano Children's Hospital, Lee Memorial Health System Foundation is currently engaged in a major capital campaign that will enhance pediatric hospital care in Southwest Florida by building a new 292,000 square foot, 128-bed children's hospital on the campus of HealthPark Medical Center. For more information, please visit ChildrensHospitalGoal.org.
Both Turtle Crawl and A Seahorse Dream trace their origins back to the summer of 1998, when Swiss architect Walter Knapp introduced an idea called Cows on Parade in Switzerland. It became an incredible hit, and the following year, Cows on Parade came to Chicago. From there, it quickly spread to more than 50 countries around the world.
The idea is simple. Local artists, architects, photographers, designers and celebrities paint, decorate and dress up fiberglass cows, salmon (Anchorage), pigs (Cincinnati) and bison (Buffalo) and then exhibit them around town for several months. The outdoor exhibit attracts tourism dollars and showcases local attractions. Then after the exhibition is over, the cows/turtles/seahorses are auctioned off and the money is donated to local charities. Since 1999, it is estimated that Cows on Parade alone has raised more than $20 million for charitable organizations around the world.
While the Fort Myers Public Art Committee is only charged with the right and responsibility to administer works that are part of the City's public art collection, the Committee signed off on both projects and applauded the efforts of both sponsoring organizations in these worthwhile endeavors.
"The community loves them," said Chairwoman Ava Roeder, referring to projects like Cows on Parade, Turtle Crawl and A Seahorse Dream.
"Gators Galore in Naples was highly successful," remarked PAC consultant and former von Liebig Art Center Director Barbara Hill of Hill Fine Art Consulting. "I applaud you for taking this on because I know how much time and labor is involved."
For more information on Turtle Crawl, please visit www.artleagueoffortmyers.org or telephone 239-275-3970.
Artists wishing to participate in the project should either visit www.a-seahorse-dream.org or telephone Steering Committee members Dr. John B. & Joyce Thomas (29-481-3907), Robert & Irma Spencer (239-768-6928) or Dave and Paula Eberhardt (29-561-0078).