SoCo Cool!

Artists carve a neigh­bor­hood niche south of Colo­nial

Gulf & Main - - Contents - BY KATHY GREY

There’s SoHo in Man­hat­tan, SoMa in San Fran­cisco … and Fort My­ers has SoCo. Climb­ing aboard the brand­ing strat­egy of pre­vi­ously ne­glected U.S. neigh­bor­hoods rich in cul­ture, the SoCo Cul­tural District launched in Oc­to­ber 2016. It is the brain­child of artist David Acevedo and of­fers a col­lab­o­ra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence in the arts in an area of Fort My­ers just south of Colo­nial Boule­vard—thus, SoCo. Fea­tur­ing cul­tural venues and busi­nesses in Royal Palm Square (an­chored by the Broad­way Palm Din­ner Theatre) and Lee County Al­liance for the Arts’ cam­pus just to the south, SoCo hap­pen­ings are sched­uled from 6-10 p.m. on the sec­ond Saturday of each month.

Roughly 4 miles from Fort My­ers’ River District and its monthly Art­Walk, the SoCo com­mu­nity’s fo­cus is on the arts. Iron­i­cally, Acevedo was the cat­a­lyst for cre­at­ing Art­Walk in what was then a strug­gling down­town area where he opened his first art gallery. “My busi­ness part­ner and I thought it would be so cool to have a gallery night once a month,” Acevedo says, so they con­vinced down­town gal­leries and artists to get on board and in­tro­duced the first Art­Walk in Oc­to­ber 2008. Over the years, Art­Walk has be­come an en­ter­tain­ment sta­ple for folks to stroll, eat and drink, peo­ple-watch and ex­pe­ri­ence art in the River District.

In April 2016 Acevedo opened DAAS CO-OP, an artists’ co­op­er­a­tive, in Royal Palm Square just a stone’s throw from the Broad­way Palm Din­ner Theatre on Colo­nial Boule­vard in Fort My­ers. “Open­ing night, we had a ridicu­lous num­ber of peo­ple—more than 500. It was huge. Peo­ple were so ex­cited to see some­thing new,” Acevedo says. He soon re­claimed his vi­sion of a monthly art-fo­cused hap­pen­ing, invit­ing his fel­low ten­ants and the nearby Al­liance for the Arts to join in cre­at­ing a cel­e­bra­tion of the arts south of Colo­nial. Will Prather, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and owner of the Broad­way Palm Din­ner Theatre, was on board im­me­di­ately, lend­ing to the new en­deavor the the­ater’s lead­er­ship in the arts com­mu­nity.

Royal Palm ten­ants jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to show­case their busi­nesses just by open­ing their doors one Saturday evening a month. A Swedish Af­fair, Yoga Bird, Suzanne’s Dance Fit­ness, Catch 22 Live Mu­sic and Sports Bar, and other Royal Palm Square or­ga­ni­za­tions signed on.

Ly­dia Black, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Al­liance for the Arts, and Bill Tay­lor, artis­tic direc­tor of Theatre Con­spir­acy, the

Al­liance’s res­i­dent per­form­ing arts com­pany, also em­braced the pro­gram, and in Oc­to­ber 2016 the first of SoCo’s monthly evening cel­e­bra­tions came to be.

Acevedo also in­vited in­de­pen­dent ar­ti­sans and crafts­peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate, adding an­other di­men­sion to the event. From Oc­to­ber to May, they line the Royal Palm walk­ways dis­play­ing their wares: draw­ings, hand-wo­ven bas­kets, jew­elry, stuffed an­i­mals, soaps, snacks, sa­chets and other hand-crafted goods. “What­ever they earn is theirs,” Acevedo notes.

Art ex­hibits at the Al­liance for the Arts, a short dis­tance from Royal Palm Square, are open on SoCo nights. That’s also where Theatre Con­spir­acy presents 10-minute plays at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., per­fect for keeping the mo­men­tum of art ex­pe­ri­ences flow­ing. As weather per­mits, the short plays may move to an out­door plat­form stage, Tay­lor says. Across the cam­pus, the Union Artist Studios and Oca­sioCasa Stu­dio are open to the pub­lic for SoCo cel­e­bra­tions, as is the South­west Florida His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, also on the Al­liance grounds.

“We thought it was a bril­liant idea for bring­ing to­gether the­ater, dance and gal­leries,” says Melissa Vogt, mar­ket­ing direc­tor of the Broad­way Palm, which is now in its 25th sea­son. “There’s more to the arts than down­town Fort My­ers, and this is a more fam­ily-friendly area,” she adds.

The Broad­way Palm opens its doors to the pub­lic on SoCo evenings, in­clud­ing the the­ater’s art ex­hibit (pro­vided and hung by DAAS CO-OP), bar and air-con­di­tioned lobby seat­ing. The final touch is the Broad­way Palm’s af­ter-party at 10 p.m., when guests are in­vited to the bar to take in a cabaret per­for­mance by cast mem­bers and en­joy com­pli­men­tary hors d’oeu­vres.

“SoCo brings an­other artis­tic and cul­tural op­tion to the peo­ple of South­west Florida,” Acevedo says. “Ev­ery­thing we do in­volves other artists. It’s some­thing you can’t do on your own. We want this place to grow ar­tis­ti­cally and cul­tur­ally—for peo­ple to come out and have a good time. Just by be­ing here, you are sup­port­ing the arts. That’s how we see it.”

DAAS CO- OP in Royal Palm Square is a leader in pro­mot­ing SoCo as an arts cen­ter.

Kathy Grey is a South­west Florida writer and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

SoCo is an area south of Colo­nial with Royal Palm Square at its cen­ter, an­chored by Broad­way Palm Din­ner Theatre ( top right) and Lee County Al­liance for the Arts ( bot­tom left). Me­gan Burk­head per­forms at DAAS CO- OP ( bot­tom right), and SoCo ven­dors sell their cre­ations ( mid­dle right).

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