ArtFest Fort Myers – much more than a great festival for our community

Once again — for the 17th year —ArtFest Fort Myers created a three-day art extravaganza the first weekend of February.

85,000 residents and visitors enjoyed exceptional art by top-notch artists from across the country and around the world. Every year close to 900 artists apply. A jury of professional artists, curators and academics choose only 200 artists to exhibit, bringing you the best-of-the-best.

That’s why ArtFest Fort Myers is the premier art festival in Southwest Florida – and ranks nationally among the top 100 art festivals.

Everyone “sees” the festival as it fills the downtown Fort Myers riverfront. But I’d like to take you behind the scenes — and let you know why we’re so passionate about creating ArtFest Fort Myers.

The anwer is simple: Art Matters. Supporting the arts defines the kind of community in which we wish to live and raise our children.
• Art builds community and brings people together.
• Art improves our quality of life, transforming and personalizing the places where we live and work.
• Artists bring creative thinking to community challenges and solutions.
• Arts organization leaders act as catalysts for learning, discovery, and achievement.
• Art encourages people to ask questions and even begin conversations with total strangers, whom they may not otherwise meet.
• Art inspires people to think about life in new ways.

Art Matters in a special way for children. After all, art encourages children to dream … to imagine … to expand the way they see the world. That’s why we’re devoted to making sure every child has a chance to enjoy art as part of a complete education.

What’s more, a study by Americans for the Arts found that young people who participate in the arts are:
• Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
• Three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools
• Four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair
• Three times more likely to be awarded for school attendance
• Twice as likely to read for pleasure

Throughout the years ArtFest Fort Myers has supported art education year-round in countless ways, reaching more than 50,000 students in Lee County. Art Under 20 (the high school exhibit & competition) and Chalk Block (the high school street painting competition) are core aspects of art education at the art festival. Year-round after-school Art Clubs; Visiting Artist programs and Art Supply Grants have provided elementary and middle school students and at-risk-youth with the opportunity to experience art projects otherwise unavailable to them.

Art Matters for our economy, too. In a world where return-on-investment is important to so many decisions, we like to say “Give To The Arts – They Give Back.”

Local businesses benefit from ArtFest Fort Myers in a big way. Downtown restaurants and retailers report “it is the best weekend of the year for us.”
Creating the art festival’s infrastructure for 85,000 attendees provides business for local golf cart and radio rentals, port-a-let and equipment suppliers, IT support, food and beverage providers, parking lot company, security services, lighting designers, graphic designer and commercial printer, entertainers, and many other local businesses.

More broadly, Lee County’s non-profit arts organizations created 2,038 full-time jobs and $68 million in economic activity in 2010. (Numbers for 2016 will be available soon.)

The kind of community we want … growth for our children … economic benefits … well, I hope you see why we’re so dedicated to bringing ArtFest to the Fort Myers waterfront each and every year.

It does take dedication — it’s a huge project! Truly, it takes a community to create ArtFest Fort Myers. Our community includes our supportive sponsors, year-round efforts by a dedicated staff & board, a 55-member Volunteer Steering Committee, 450 enthusiastic festival-weekend volunteers, 200 incredible artists and 85,000 art-loving attendees. We thank each and every one of you for your support.

And we at ArtFest Fort Myers give back to our community. We provide free space for other Lee County art organizations to showcase their programs, as well as a Youth Stage for young performing artists to gain performance experience and showcase their organizations. We engage in on-going strategic thinking and planning with other arts organizations and public art intiatives to enhance our community.

In other words, we walk our talk. We ask ourselves what we ask everyone: How do YOU give to the arts, so the arts can give back?

Art Matters. I hope you’ll continue the conversation with us or the art organization of your choice, as we all use the arts to create the kind of community we can all love for years to come.

First Time Artist Wins Award


Merab Gagiladze traveled all the way from the country of Georgia to grace us with his uniquely styled paintings. His work draws from history, religion, and mythology and depicts the joys, sorrows, and dreams of real life. Our judges were impressed and bestowed an Award of Merit on this “first appearance at ArtFest” artist.

Suncoast Partnership Brings Prestigious Award

suncoastArtFest Fort Myers recently received numerous Florida Festival & Events Association honors and was particularly proud to be recognized with a First Place Award for their successful sponsorship program with Suncoast Credit Union and the Art Under 20 high school art competition.

“When the arts are an active and vibrant part of a community, everyone benefits. Suncoast Credit Union is elated to know that ArtFest Fort Myers has been recognized as the jewel we believe it is, and that our members and the larger community get exposure to the arts in a way that might not happen without such an event,” said Greg Pasanen, Regional Vice President.

With the support of Suncoast Credit Union, the Art Under 20 exhibit and competition, which takes place over festival weekend, gives hundreds of talented high school students an opportunity to showcase their artwork to festival goers while competing for $8,000 in cash awards. Students artists from across our community exhibit in the categories of Digital, Drawing, Painting, Photography, 3-D and Mixed Media and student Entry Forms are available now for the 2017 competition. For more information, visit

ArtFest Award Named in Honor of Ben Essenburg

IMG_2999 (1)New this season, ArtFest Fort Myers is proud to announce the addition of a $500 Ben Essenburg Award to the professional artist awards. It is the festival’s intention to honor this Florida wildlife artist who has contributed so much to the fine art festival since its inception. We look forward to having Ben visit ArtFest Fort Myers in February 2017 to give out the award in person.

Ben Essenburg has been painting and exhibiting professionally since 1975 and was a key Artist Advisor in the early years of ArtFest Fort Myers. His incredible talent, generous nature and years of experience in the outdoor fine art festival venue made him uniquely qualified to provide valuable insights regarding the inner workings of a successful juried event. As a tribute to his award-winning artistic talent, Ben is the only artist who has juried into and participated in ArtFest Fort Myers for an incredible run of 13 consecutive years.

ArtFest Fort Myers is grateful to count Ben Essenburg among our dearest friends and colleagues. Over the years, he has gifted our community with his artistic vision of our natural world, opening our eyes to the astonishing beauty that surrounds us. We humbly institute the “Ben Essenburg Award” in his honor.

Pictured above is Ben Essenburg (center) receiving a 2012 festival award from Marv Weiner (left) and Judy Weiner (right), ArtFest Artist Relations Committee Chairpersons.

ArtFest Fort Myers, the annual juried fine art festival, takes place February 3, 4 & 5, 2017 in the Fort Myers River District. Join the experience with 200 professional artists from across the county and around the world; the largest high school art exhibit and competition in south Florida and free interactive art experiences for children of all ages.  For more information, visit

Beautiful Jewelry Recognized


Ronald Linton wowed the judges with his jewelry and walked away with a 2016 Merit Award. He uses the primary materials shibuichi and 18k gold to create stunning, elemental looking pieces. We hope you had the opportunity to meet him at ArtFest Fort Myers and enjoy his work!

Wearable Art Garners Award


Candiss Cole-Footitt, a 2016 Award Of Merit Winner, specializes in wearable art that is hand dyed and woven. (Hers may be the only Atelier in the world that hand weaves Ikat-Shibori.) We are so glad she joined us to share the fabulous techniques that her grandmother taught her in a little Dutch town in New York!

Extraordinary Printmaker Joined ArtFest Fort Myers 2016


John Costin is so deserving of the Award of Merit that ArtFest judges bestowed upon him in 2016. He meticulously studies his subjects in the field and then goes to work recreating them from memory. We hope you met him and experienced, first hand, the incredible artwork of this extraordinary printmaker.

Schwegmann Creates Ceramics with a Twist


Michael Schwegmann creates amazingly detailed ceramic representations of common items that reference labor and hands-on activities. He won the 2nd Place 3D Award with these special wheel-thrown and hand-molded pieces at ArtFest Fort Myers 2016! See more at

Photographer Garry Seidel Honored at ArtFest


Garry Seidel produces each of his images using traditional film and darkroom printing processes. His photography reflects his life happenings – notably, his experiences with his family in war-torn Berlin, Germany. The judges awarded this stunning insight on life by awarding him the 2nd Place 2D Award at ArtFest Fort Myers 2016!

Thorsen Cityscapes Win Award in 2016


Kristin Thorsen applies her heavy influences of contemporary European teachings and Scandinavian heritage to her artwork. She has knack for spurring our imaginations as she takes us away into her invented cityscapes within her paintings – surely she deserved the 2016 1st Place 2D award!



Saturday and Sunday, February 3 & 4, 2018
10 am - 5 pm
On the waterfront in historic downtown Fort Myers

Opening Night: Friday, February 2 • 6 - 9 pm

Phone: 239-768-3602


“The Arts Mean Business”

Did you know that Lee County’s non-profit arts organizations create 2,038 full-time jobs and $68 million in economic activity? More »