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Many Happy Returns

insights.jpgThis is the story of a revival, and it starts with a bright idea from Susan Bridges, president of the Center for the Arts in Bonita Springs. 

Here in Bonita, the discussion about the downturn in our economy usually includes how sad it is that The Promenade is losing retailers. Although everyone talked about it, no one had any solutions. 

Then an idea came to Bridges after the Bonita Springs National Art Fair was held there. She suggested to The Lutgert Cos. managers that there might be a way to help bring more people to The Promenade while also leasing the vacant spaces. 

Within a week, a proposal from the Center for the Arts arrived with three parts to the effort—the creation of: 1) a performance theater, 2) an Arts Worldwide event and 3) rotating artist galleries in empty stores. 

The partnership began with The Center Performance Theatre. It had a very successful season, bustling with children’s plays, flamenco dancing, musicians from the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, comedians and more at affordable prices. Businesses volunteered to complete the necessary remodeling, including Bay Builders, which provided a stage. We did such a beautiful job of painting and remodeling that the space was rented after opening night. We simply moved our production to another space without missing a beat. 

The second part of the partnership was Arts Worldwide, a free, family program held Nov. 21 with visual and performing arts in music, dance and theater from many countries. A few thousand people attended throughout the day. Children were laughing and running around with painted faces. The Promenade was alive again. The retailers were happy, and the restaurants were crowded. 

The third part of the partnership involved staging art galleries in empty stores. The galleries are open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday each week in vacant stores, where several artists set up for a period of a month or two. The space is manned from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, with artist demonstrations. Many media are featured, including painting, sculpture, pottery, glass work, woodturning and furniture making. 

Although I had donated my paintings and photographs for charity events, I had never sold them before. It is a truly rewarding experience. Many artists have exhibited here for the first time, and all have such beautiful work to display.

The last Thursday of the month, from 4–7 p.m., we have an art walk, with wine and cheese supplied by the Center for the Arts and music supplied by The Lutgert Cos. Despite rain the first time, in July, more than 300 people came. This is a community event. All enjoy their visits, we enjoy our sales, and it helps keep our Promenade alive. It shows what can happen when people think out of the box, help each other and make lemonade out of lemons.   

Jacke McCurdy is chairman of the board of the Center for the Arts in Bonita Springs.

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