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Spotlight on Fort Myers’ Ward 4 art hub at The Franklin Shops on First


The Fort Myers Public Art Committee has been establishing art hubs in each of the City’s six wards using in the 23 Edgardo Carmona sculptures that the City purchased in August of 2018. One such art hub is The Franklin Shops on First in Ward 4. On April 25th, the Committee moved Nagacion A Baco or Two Drunks on a Bench in front of The Franklin Shops on First, which is an ideal art hub partner.

The term art hub refers to a location that is already or which is intended to become either a cultural, business or residential destination. Not only does The Franklin Shops on First attract scores of shoppers, it  stages exhibitions, openings and other art events. With a calendar filled with musical and fine art performances, The Franklin Shops offers a platform for local artists and contributes to the lively and stimulating cultural flair of the River District.

“It is our mission to create a space in downtown Fort Myers where artists and their audiences engage in a meaningful way,” states Franklin Shops owner Rene Miville, who also operates the Rene Miville Gallery on the elegant shopping emporium’s second floor mezzanine. Some of the work that the Gallery has showcased over the years includes the mixed media paintings of Davis Art Center Exhibitions Coordinator and Artsemble Underground muralist Cesar Aguilera, the realist landscapes of watercolor artist David Belling, the introspective imaginings of Canadian-born artist Danielle Branchaud, the moment-driven images of Fort Myers News Press reporter Kinfay Moroti and the enchanting and mystically romantic illustrations of Swiss artist Simone Eisenbeiss.

Speaking of Eisenbeiss, Miville also commissioned her to paint an eye-catching mural that delivers an animal protection message on the Franklin Shops’ brick east wall.

The Franklin Shops have also featured art demonstrations and related events in the display windows facing First. That’s where streetside audiences have enjoyed Leoma Lovegrove painting out loud, as well as a performance of Windowstories by Ghostbird Theatre Company.

“I’m helping people realize their dreams,” Miville said of artists selling ceramics, sculptures, clothing, jewelry, art and other products in the 10,000-square-foot “arts incubator” – in the words of Aisling Swift in a feature published by Gulfshore Business (“Rene Miville’s Path: From fashion photography to The Franklin Shops,” March 1, 2022).

In addition to its bubble tearoom, the Shops hosts a companionable medley of vendors who make and sell everything from art, jewelry and fashion to furnishings, accessories, beauty items and gifts. The historical store and the beautiful store front at First Street reflect the varied history of downtown Fort Myers. The historical building was constructed in 1937 for the Franklin Hardware Store. The architecture was particularly unique for the time, as it was one of the very few art deco influenced buildings within the Historic District. Most notable is the use of vitrolite (Carrara Glass) on the front façade, which characterizes the elegant store front. The hardware store remained until the 1960’s, at which time it became home to the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

While the City’s Public Art Committee anticipates that art enthusiasts frequenting The Franklin Shops will certainly enjoy Two Drunks, it also hopes that shoppers, folks dining across the street at Ford’s Garage and coffee drinkers patronizing Starbucks and Seed and Bean will also come to appreciate public art and be inspired to learn more about the other artworks in the City’s outdoor public art collection.

In furtherance of the latter objection, the City’s Public Art Consultant is currently preparing text and assembling photographs for inclusion on a free mobile app that will tell users about Two Drunks on a Bench and Columbian artist Edgardo Carmona, who made the Cor-Ten steel sculpture. Known as Otocast, the app will also include an audio that shares stories about Fort Myers moonshiner Bill Clay, the saloons that catered to rowdy drovers, cow punchers and cattle buyers in our early days and the fight for temperance conducted by female pioneers Laura Hendry Thompson and Olive Stout between 1887 and 1908. Anyone with a smart phone will have access to these tales, as well as behind-the-scenes stories about more than two dozen of the City’s other outdoor public artworks.

For information about some of these artworks and art hub locations, read the articles appearing below or download and enjoy Otocast.

June 20, 2022.


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