Fort Myers has an outstanding art scene, with colorful galleries, hip festivals, and classes galore. In fact, art and culture drive much of the local economy: Americans for the Arts estimates that in Fort Myers, nonprofit arts and culture generates $49.7 million in annual economic activity; 1,389 full-time equivalent jobs; and $6.7 million in local and state government revenue!
Galleries abound throughout the downtown River District, which also delights with antique shops, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. One of the most prominent art districts in Southwest Florida, the River District is known for avant-garde, leading edge art in the tradition of Robert Rauschenberg. A premier art venue is the DAAS Co-Cop Art Gallery, showcasing the art of 30 members, and offering classes, workshops, and wine and painting nights. The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, also in the River District, is housed in a gorgeous 1930’s-era building that has been fully renovated. It is a rare example of Neoclassical Revival architecture, but with a Florida twist: its massive columns were cut from Key West limestone, and the exterior walls are embedded with shells and coral. It is run by the nonprofit Florida Arts, Inc., and brings world-class art events including concerts, galas, lectures, and free art exhibitions. The one-of-a-kind facility is also available for rental.
The Arts for ACT is an award-winning gallery in historic downtown, featuring the distinctive and extraordinary art of a diverse group of over 75 co-op artists. It is owned by ACT, a domestic violence shelter. The Alliance for the Arts hosts exhibitions, festivals, concerts, and many other programs. They offer a wonderful variety of art and music classes for every age and skill level. Theatre Conspiracy is their own resident theater company, which puts on shows ranging from classics to comedies to new works throughout the year.
Art aficionados will return again and again to the Art Walk in the River District. On the first Friday of every month, rain or shine, First Street is closed to vehicles and instead hosts hundreds of art vendors. Thousands of art lovers flock to the open air art demonstrations, meet-the-artist receptions, and new exhibitions at the Art of the Olympians, the Patio de Leon, and the Oasis Condominiums. The street festival feeling is enhanced by live music and excellent food and spirits. The Walk culminates in a free Friday Night Live concert at Patio de Leon.
Every February Fort Myers hosts the juried art festival Art Fest along the beautiful historic downtown waterfront. Admission is free to enjoy exceptional works of art, entertainment, and children’s activities.
For a fun art experience, head over to Painting with a Twist, where you can take a 2 or 3-hour class or book a private party, with discounts for seniors and children. Just bring yourself—they provide all pai
nting supplies and detailed instructions. No experience or special skill necessary!
Fort Myers is surrounded by vibrant art communities. There are well over 125 art galleries within an hour’s drive, in places such as Captiva Island (home to Rauschenberg from 1970 to 2008), Marco Island, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, an
d Naples. Naples boasts two major districts. Fifth Avenue is known for classical masters and artwork from Haiti (and elsewhere in the Caribbean), Belize, and Africa. The Third Street South shopping district, including the fabled Gallery Row, is known for contemporary art.Closer to Fort Myers is Sanibel Island, which boasts Big Arts, which since 1979 has been the main venue for arts and culture on the island. Also in Sanibel is the professional co-op Tower Gallery, housed in a sweet little beach house built in 1926, and the beautiful Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum, the only shell museum in the US. You can also soak in the old Key West-like vibe in the colorful part fishing village, part art colony of Matlacha on nearby Pine Island.