For The Love of Art
When people reach 65 years old, they become senior citizens, but when the Fort Myers Beach Art Association (FMBAA) recently celebrated its 65th birthday, it was clear that it is just getting going!
“The Fort Myers Beach Art Association celebrated our 65th year with an anniversary party on Thursday, December 8,” said FMBAA publicity chair Pam Flaherty. “The Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce president, Jacki Liszak, along with Past-president Joan Zeoli assisted FMBAA president Floyd Lawrence with the ribbon-cutting.” FMBAA members competed for “Most Artistic Appetizer,” with Helma Gansen, Michele Buelow, and Donna Bergeron winning. “The actual anniversary was last June but so many members leave during the offseason we waited until now.”
While the ribbon-cutting is the FMBAA’s most recent event, it all began back on June 12, 1951, when a small group of interested artists met at the home of Evelina Green to discuss the means to promote the study, appreciation and interest in the creative arts. According to the original document, “The Board of Directors of the Fort Myers Beach Art Association was called to order by President Mrs. Charles Green at her home at 2 p.m.” From this was born the FMBAA.
“Children’s art education was a priority from the start,” Pam explains, “and children and high school students continue as a priority today. It is no coincidence the annual Paint the Beach Plein Air Art Festival begins each year with the outdoor art class at the Beach Elementary School, and features high school students with the professional artists at the Quick Draw event at Times Square. Youth art remains a focus.”
Aim is The Same
Pam explains that even after 65 years, “our aim is the same as at our inception – to promote art in every possible way at every possible level. It is extraordinary that the FMBAA is still sustainable after so many years, while still embracing the same values.”
While some things stay the same, others change. Pam says the Association originally “did not limit itself to the two-dimensional realm of visual art, like today. Programs such as ballet and sculpting were important early components, as opposed to now where indoor and outdoor painting are our specialties.”
While the FMBAA narrowed its mission, it is not static. It hosts visiting artist workshops, all-member shows, local artist exhibits, past-president displays, youth artist scholarship fund shows, art classes, nautical workshops, life drawings, juried shows, ship’s ahoy displays, outdoor painting sessions, water color classes and of course the annual Paint the Beach Plein Air Art Festival each November. It has over 220 members who pay the $50 annual dues.
Almost from its inception, members dreamed of a home of their own. “The Association had a false start in 1955,” Pam reports. “It received a gift of a lot but determined the property was unbuildable, so it gave the land back.” After a long existence in donated buildings and sites, like the Best Western Hotel, Church of the Ascension, and the former Gulf Shore Inn and Beach Community Hall, artists took the initial step to construct their own center when they purchased two lots at Donora and Shell Mound Boulevards in 1965 for $4,500, paying them off the following year.
The Best Possible Building
Work began on February 23, 1968, off a building design by Bolton McBride, with Midgley Construction doing the job for $20,000. At no point was the organization in debt, as it accumulated its building fund from the sale of donated paintings, fundraising dinners, auctions, donations and memorials for “the best possible building where artists may work and advance the pleasure of artists, residents and guests alike.” It opened one year later, on February 18, 1969.
Of course art is important to the FMBAA members, but it is not paramount. Pam joined in 2012, explaining that “we moved here from Culpepper, Virginia. I had not done art since college, but my daughter left her art materials, and it cost so much I did not want to waste it! I saw a notice in the Island Sand Paper that Sue Pink was doing a workshop on paper stamping and collages, and thought ‘that sounds safe!’ It was such fun; I loved it! Based on that I have been coming back ever since. It is hard to believe that was 5 years ago. While doing art is great, the best parts are the friendships and companionship.”
Pam continues that “I was so impressed how everyone works together, in a caring and nurturing way. I am really not much of an artist, compared to so many of our members, but I love it for the social aspect. My husband, who has zero interest in art, is so taken by the camaraderie that he does the Association website!”
Beverly Silvia is chair of the Scholarship Fund, explaining that “the FMBAA offers partial college scholarships each year to three Cypress Lake High School seniors, as well as a personal cash award; we will present these in 2017 on Friday, March 24. The students hang their work here at the gallery, as part of the judging, without any help from professionals or adults – it is like cooking, where presentation counts!” Cypress Lake juniors display their works as well for awards, but no scholarships.
“In my opinion, that is absolutely the best show all year,” Beverly exclaims. “It is so different and far out; the kids now even use computerized artwork. They think differently and make me feel so lucky they will run the art world one day – they are really brilliant!”
As for her, Beverly explains that “I have been a member for 7 years, and just happened on to the FMBAA. I lived in a mobile home back then and I had no place to lay out my work. I attended an experimental class and everyone was so friendly and helpful, and it was so stress-free I could not wait to return, and have been returning ever since!”
Pay It Forward
In a case of perfect timing, Floyd Lawrence arrived at the Association from a meeting where, by complete chance, a young man named Ehren Gerhard approached him. Floyd informed the members present that Ehren was a Cypress Lakes senior in 2009 who received an FMBAA scholarship that year. He went on to graduate from Arizona State University, and now teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University.
“It is encouraging to know students take advantage of our scholarships,” Floyd enthusiastically reports, “and return to benefit our community. I wish more previous winners would check in.” Speaking about his own experience with the FMBAA, he says that “even though we have been around for over 65 years, I still think sometimes we are the real hidden gem of the island.”
To visit, experience or join this gem yourself, the Fort Myers Beach Art Association is open Monday through Saturday from mid-October to mid-April from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., though it will close on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Summer hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to Noon. It is at 3030 Shell Mound Boulevard, at Donora Boulevard; for details call 239-463-3909 or see www.fortmyersbeachart.com.