Cape Coral Festival of the Arts 2017- The History of the Festival of the Arts

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In 1985, Lee County was void of any true art festivals, yet many local artists.

It was a void that local artist and Cape Coral resident John Jacobsen knew all too well.

At the time, Jacobsen had only lived in Cape Coral for a few short years. As a fine arts artist, Jacobsen spent a great deal of time traveling to the northern parts of the United States to participate in festivals.

Always traveling to participate in art festivals outside the area, he grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of true art festivals in Lee County. Around that time, to become better acquainted with the community and its members, he joined the Rotary Club of Cape Coral.

Seeing the work the organization did across the community, Jacobsen felt the Rotary Club would be a perfect fit to organize the type of art festival he so yearned to have in Southwest Florida. He soon went to club leaders with the idea of hosting an art festival right here in Cape Coral. He explained to the club that if done correctly an art festival could become a significant draw for both the city and the organization.

It did not take long for the Rotary Club to see the potential such a festival could have on the community. Soon Jacobsen found himself in charge on the club’s behalf in organizing the event. For the next year, Jacobsen spent hours, days, and weeks researching art festival schedules, not only around Florida but, across the country.

The result of all of his research was the realization that the art festival schedule typically stopped after Thanksgiving and did not start again until late January. Being an artist himself, Jacobsen felt that if Cape Coral hosted an art festival in early January, it would attract artists, who after a two-month layoff, would be hungry to sell their work in festivals at that time of the year. The club decided to hold their festival the second week of January. The Cape Coral Festival of the Arts essentially kicked off the art festival season by holding the event during this time of the year.

The club nor Jacobsen realized the significance that holding their festival in early January would have on the rest of the art festival world. It did not take long before other festival organizers began noticing the success the Cape Coral Festival of the Arts had and began moving their festivals to earlier in January, some even moved theirs to December. While they did not hold the title of kicking off the art festival season for long, the club felt some satisfaction in knowing the impact they had on the art festival world.

The festival began its history calling Cape Coral’s Jaycee Park home. The first nine years of the festival took place at the park. The festival was an instant success. It not only attracted local artists and art patrons, but people from all over the state. By 1994, the festival had become so popular that it outgrew the park. In 1995 organizers moved the festival to the Tarpon Point area in South Cape Coral, or what now known as The Resort at Marina Village. The move to Tarpon Point proved to be a challenge especially when it came to weather. During one year, the festival was besieged with over eight inches of rain. The rain turned the area into one giant mud puddle. The most memorable sight of that year's festival wasn't the art being displayed at the event, but rather the number of cars being towed out from the parking area that had become a lake.

Realizing that to continue the expansion of the festival it would have to be moved to another location, Jacobsen, and the Rotary Club began searching for ideas on where to relocate the festival.

An idea that started gaining traction was holding the festival on Cape Coral Parkway. The Rotary Club and Jacobsen soon went before Cape Coral’s City Council asking for approval to hold the festival on the parkway, essentially shutting the parkway down to automotive traffic over that weekend. With all of the festivals held on streets throughout Cape Coral today, that request may not seem like such a momentous task. In those days, it was a different story, “Going before the council with this request was no small task, this was back when there were no festivals like the Holiday Festival of Lights, Bike Nights, etc. held in downtown Cape Coral. We really had to sell them on the benefit of closing down Cape Coral Parkway and holding this event each year.”

While their request was not met with approval on the first try, the club would not give up. Through persistence and hard work, the council finally granted approval to the idea and gave the festival the distinction of being the first event in Cape Coral to close down Cape Coral Parkway to hold an event.

Since that time, Cape Coral has continued to be the home of the art festival on the second weekend in January every year. The new location allowed the festival add new features such as a children’s play area, a rock-climbing wall, children’s activity center and food from a variety of vendors and local restaurants.

Today, hundreds of artists and an estimated 100,000 people pack the parkway the second weekend of January every year to participate in what has become one of Cape Coral’s most successful and long-running annual events.

In 2015, the club celebrated the 30th anniversary of the festival. With three full decades under its belt, the festival shows no signs of slowing down, in fact, the club has continually added new features to the event to keep it growing in the future. 

While the Rotary Club pretty much has the organization of the event down to a science each year, there is always a chance of the unexpected throwing a wrench in the process. A good example of that was last year's festival, when shortly after closing for the evening on the first day, Cape Coral was stunned when a large EF2 tornado touched down in the Southwest section of the city just miles from the location of the festival.

The tornado ripped through the city doing millions of dollars in damages to nearly 200 structures and other property. However, minus a few moved barricades and damage to just one of the three hundred participating vendors' artwork, the festival was left unscathed and picked back up the next day to finish off the year.

With weather expected to be much better this year, organizers are hoping for a banner festival and strong turnout to continue the tradition of what has become Cape Coral's biggest two-day annual event.


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