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Fort Myers Mural Society unveils Southwest Florida’s first augmented reality mural


Imagine gazing at the Mona Lisa, and having her wink back. Or adding sound to Edvard Munch’s Scream. Welcome to the world of Augmented Reality Art! During Art Walk on January 5th, Fort Myers joined the growing list of Florida cities that engage viewers through the newest street art genre, augmented reality murals.

Located inside Grand Illusion Creative Resources on First Street, the mural depicts a 3D sculpture of a 1969 Volkswagen Bug emerging from a wall containing a pop art mural as backdrop. But when a viewer downloads either a filter available through Instagram or a specially-crafted app on their smartphone, tablet or other device, the Bug takes flight and launches them on a journey during which they see some of the most iconic masterpieces in art history.

“As you travel through the space that the augmented reality creates, fine art pieces that are reminiscent of all art periods pop up for your sort of familiarity and viewing,” explains Fort Myers Mural Society Executive Director Shari Shifrin. “It is art coming to you is basically the idea of the experience.”

The Mural Society also hopes that its augmented reality mural will appeal to a new demographic.

“What better way to bring historic fine art into the future than make it attainable in the realm that the Gen-Xers and Millennials exist in? They’re gamers and we created a mural and a piece of art that more closely resembles a game than it does fine art from the older demographic’s viewpoint, but yet aesthetically and by definition is art, and is just a new genre that’s coming around and I kinda hope everyone gets it ‘cause I think it’s going to be really important.”

Augmented Reality murals appeal to more than GenX, GenZ and Millennials. The Grand Illusion mural resulted from a partnership that included the Tourist Development Council and Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau. The TDC and VCB’s involvement reflects the reality that other cities with AR murals have experienced an influx of cultural and heritage tourists. That market is huge, with heritage tourists worldwide spending $557 billion in 2021, a number that’s expected to grow at a rate of 3.8 percent annually through 2030.

“Not everybody’s sports oriented and not everybody travels to hit the beaches, but art tourism is just another form of exploring the world and a lot of things are being funneled in that direction. Art tourists would have cultural experiences worldwide, and that’s what we’re trying to provide. We have a lot of worldwide visitors here. There’s no explanation needed in flashing your digital device in front of a QR Code and experiencing a piece of art. There’s no language barrier because it’s kind of like a picture book. It just happens.”

From the artist’s perspective, augmented reality murals enable street artists to better connect with onlookers. For example, when Eduardo Kobra executed a painting of Salvador Dali on the side of Wynwood’s R House Restaurant, he included an AR component. The bold and vibrant mural looks much like all the others in the neighborhood. To the naked eye, the mural seems static and two-dimensional. But when in-the-know passersby point their smartphone at the mural’s trigger points, a butterfly with ultraviolet wings lands on Dali’s cheek sending his eyes into rolling excitement.

AR murals won’t just attract cultural and heritage tourists. They will encourage people to explore other neighborhoods and out-of-the-way places in their own towns. For example, when Orlando-based Electrifly installed its Trailblazer augmented reality mural on the side of Ventimiglia Italian Foods in Sterling Heights, Michigan, the 30-year old deli became an overnight local landmark, with hundreds of new patrons each day grabbing a bite before or after playing the interactive soccer game included in the mural.

Gaming aside, AR Murals also have the capability of enabling neighborhoods to tell share their unique culture and history in a compelling, evocative way.

With the Grand Illusion augmented reality mural, Fort Myers joins Miami, Tampa, Clearwater and Orlando on the forefront of this exciting new genre.

“There are more coming, because we have been booked for Cape Coral Redevelopment Association is in the process of planning and designing their augmented reality mural, which we will hopefully be unveiling in April.”

For now, Shifrin would like folks to drop in to Grand Illusion on First Street to experience Fort Myers’ first AR mural. Grand Illusion is open from 10 to 6 Monday through Friday, with extended hours during Art Walk, Music Walk and other event nights.



  • Augmented Reality murals consist of a physical painting on a wall or other surface, combined with digital elements that can only be seen through a smartphone or tablet. Some include sculptural elements, as well. When viewed through a compatible app, the mural and 3D sculpture come alive with animation, sound, or even interactive features. The magic behind AR murals lies in the technology that powers them. Augmented reality overlays digital content on the physical world, enhancing our perception of it.
  • Creating an AR mural requires collaboration between artists and AR developers. First, the artist designs and paints the mural, keeping in mind the intended AR elements. Then, the AR developer creates the digital content and programs the app to recognize the mural and display the content accordingly.
  • AR murals equipped with animations and gameplay can turn a simple walk into an immersive experience.
  • The Grand Illusion Augmented Reality Mural was unveiled during ArtWalk on January 5th. It will be on display inside Grand Illusion Creative through at least August, 2024.
  • The Fort Myers Mural Society has painted nearly 200 murals throughout Southwest Florida since its inception in 2016. It has also participated in dozens of public community events. However, adding augmented reality into murals will bring art to life in a way that is particularly appealing to a younger demographic because it integrates their Smartphones and similar devices into the art viewing experience.
  • In essence, augmented reality murals fuse internet-based technology into murals, street painting and graffiti to create a one-of-a-kind mixed reality experience. After downloading a free app, viewers simply point their Smartphone or tablet at the mural. When they do, the images become animated, creating an immersive and interactive viewing experience.
  • While most people will view an augmented reality mural while standing in front of it, once the mural has been tracked into their Instagram profile or the app they download, they can actually activate the mural through a sticker or through a printed tee-shirt. “If the mural was printed on a piece of paper with a high enough contrast, it will also activate through your phone,” Shari Shifrin adds. “It’s got a built-in tracker that initiates the animation as soon as it recognizes it.”
  • When asked if AR is more fad than future, gimmick than groundbreaking genre, Shifrin predicted that AR “is the forefront of a new art genre that, in our future, this will [increasingly] be everywhere you go … allowing us to re-experience forms of art that we would otherwise have to fly across to the other side of the world to see.”
  • However, some critics bristle at this eventuality, pointing out that one of the most valuable aspects of art is its ability to pull us away from our daily distractions and get us looking and thinking differently about the world around us. ARt may backfire, compelling us to be even more enmeshing in our devices.
  • For the Grand Illusion mural, the Fort Myers Mural Society artists and partners created a 3D model of the 1969 Volkswagen bug and then flew it around a green screen so that it could be captured digitally from top, bottom and all four sides.
  • While younger viewers had little difficulty accessing the Instagram filter or app and launching the AR experience, Shifrin did note that the mural was more of a challenge for less tech-savvy users, particularly those who had older smartphones.
  • During the unveiling, viewers discovered that if they turned their device around to face themselves, their faces would appear inside the Volkswagen, thereby affording them to take a selfie as part of the AR experience.
  • Existing murals can be retrofit to include an Augmented Reality component. For example, the City of Clearwater commissioned seven murals between 2018 and 2021. As the artists were painting them, Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency arranged for the University of South Florida’s Access 3D Lab and Advanced Visualizaton Center to develop an AR component for four of the murals. Each mural has three trigger points. However, the rendering artists were not given any input regarding the nature and content of the animations which may require artists going forward to negotiate the rights if the host, sponsor or anyone else wishes to add AR after the mural has been completed.
  • “We have a few murals in mind that we feel that we can go back and add an AR experience to and we’re running them through the trackers now to see which ones it would happen to with less change,” Shifrin reports.
  • In Tampa, Dutch artist Leon Keer painted a 1,500 square foot mural inspired by diversity. From one angle, it looks 3D, but when you scan it with the app he developed, the mural comes to life.
  • In Orlando, CITY UNSEEN ℠ enhances viewers’ perspectives on art, dimensional reality, and perception through the works of internationally renowned artists — adding another layer of cultural significance to the Downtown and Central Florida region. Using cutting-edge Augmented Reality technology, the CITY UNSEEN ℠ app brings murals across Orlando to life and teleports viewers into a 360-degree view that enhances the art experience. CITY UNSEEN ℠ won the 2019 Innovation and Technology Golden Brick Award as a groundbreaking Orlando art project. The app was developed by BrandXR, which collaborated on Fort Myers’ Grand Illusion mural as well. CITY UNSEEN ℠ was funded in part by the Orange County Government through its Arts & Cultural Affairs Program.
  • Like Miami, Tampa, Orlando and L.A., Fort Myers expects to see increased interest by heritage and cultural tourists since ARt (the shorthand acronym for Augmented Reality art) will give people the impetus to discover dynamic visuals in out-of-the way places and neighborhoods they may not have previously visited.
  • The Trailblazer Augmented Reality Mural mentioned in the main story won a Gold Telly Award for use of Immersive and Mixed Reality.
  • Fort Myers Mural Society is a SWFL based artist group that strives to make a difference in the community. Their work does not fit in one medium.  You have seen the artist members works all around town at outdoor art festivals, art galleries, creating interactive murals with non profits, social media campaigns and chalking in the streets.  These are just a few things they choose to bring to the community to interact with. With AR-activated murals, the Fort Myers Mural Society is poised to redefine how audiences engage with murals and enable patrons of all ages to dive into the rich world of mural art and connect with Fort Myers in exciting, immersive and memorable way.
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