The Cape Coral Festival of the Arts has grown to become the single biggest annual art show in the Fort Myers area.
It began more than 30 years ago at the quaint Jaycee Park, in the so-called “water city” as not only the first art show of the New Year, but also the first in the nation to be held so early.
Some 100,000 people attend the annual Cape Coral Festival of the Arts each January — Photo courtesy of Cape Coral Festival of the Arts
The event is the brainchild of John Jacobsen, an artist who relocated his studio to southwest Florida to escape the brutal winters of Minnesota, only to find the art scene here was severely lacking – by his standards.
Having spent some time on the art show circuit, he knew that in January, most artists were hungry, ready to reveal their latest works and yearning to make some money. But the traveling art season didn’t really get into full swing until the spring.
Jacobsen seized the opportunity and organized his first show from an artist's perspective. The fact that he put the artists' needs first made it enticing for the creative-types to take a chance on the festival. In turn, it continued to grow to the point where it had outgrown the park.
As the show grew, so did Jacobsen's vision. He wanted to close down one of the city’s main thoroughfares, moving the event from the park to the streets. It took a few years but he finally convinced city leaders to block off a portion of the busy Cape Coral Parkway to host the show.
Now, there are some 300 artists lining numerous blocks of the parkway, which still offers more room to grow if desired. This is quite the feat when you consider that most festivals in the area and even around the country are limited in growth due to the space they already inhabit.
Artists from across the country look forward to attending this yearly festival — Photo courtesy of Cape Coral Festival of the Arts
Exhibitors have to pass a rigorous screening process to be accepted. They come from all over the country, packing crates full of pottery, sculptures, paintings, photography, jewelry, woodwork, mixed media pieces and almost anything else you could imagine.
Not only does this show offer an unlimited space for expansion, it also offers plenty of room for parking, most of it free and within easy access of the action. The show itself is also free, making it a great way to introduce first-timers to art as well as a fun outing for the entire family.
Some 100,000 people attend the art show each year, but it never seems to be overly congested thanks to the space the parkway provides.
Besides the food vendors that are part of the festival, this “South Cape” area has seen an explosion of local, eclectic dining options over the last few years; there's a local brewery close by and an impressive farmers market on Saturday.
Not to mention, you never know which budding artists you’ll see at festivals like this one. For instance, Clyde Butcher, known as the Ansel Adams of the Everglades, showed his intoxicating Florida photography at this show for many years before he became a national phenomenon.
The 2016 festival dates are January 9th and 10th.