Art in Flight

Soar­ing to cul­tural heights

Times of the Islands - - Departments - Ja­cob Ogles is a free­lance jour­nal­ist based in Cape Coral.

For the nearly 9 mil­lion pas­sen­gers who fly in and out of South­west Florida In­ter­na­tional Air­port, or RSW, in Fort My­ers each year, the in­side of the ter­mi­nal be­comes the first and last im­pres­sion of the re­gion. Thus, air­port of­fi­cials for more than a decade have worked with Lee County arts lead­ers to make sure that cul­tural trea­sures from the area adorn the walls and open spa­ces of RSW.

“We rep­re­sent the com­mu­nity in a very big way. That’s why it’s im­por­tant to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the en­tire travel ex­pe­ri­ence as much as we can,” ex­plains Vic­to­ria More­land, direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mar­ket­ing for the Lee County Port Author­ity.

For most of the past two years, pho­tog­ra­phy show­cas­ing the re­gion’s ecosys­tem turned the air­port walls into a rich ex­hibit space. A jury se­lected the images, in­clud­ing black-and-white pho­tos of drift­wood on lo­cal beaches taken by Buck Ward, and jel­ly­fish swim­ming be­low the sur­face of the wa­ter in color shots by Katy Danca Galli.

In the past, the air­port has fea­tured the Han­son Fam­ily Ar­chives col­lec­tion of images dubbed “Chil­dren of the Ever­glades.” Re­cently ex­hib­ited is “Dúo Sin­fónico,” a com­pan­ion piece to Edgardo Car­mona’s “Al­lure Your Senses” col­lec­tion of rec­og­niz­able metal sculp­tures in down­town Fort My­ers. The fa­cil­i­ties also hosted the con­tem­po­rary sculp­ture “Dawn’s For­est,” a Louise Nevel­son work orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned by Ge­or­gia Pa­cific.

On three oc­ca­sions to date, the air­port had ex­hibits com­prised en­tirely of art­work by stu­dents in Lee County schools. Most re­cently, the air­port called on stu­dents to paint pic­tures of des­ti­na­tions they wanted to visit—for a show called “Oh, the Places We Will Go.” A past theme en­cour­aged stu­dents to imag­ine fan­ci­ful and prac­ti­cal ways to travel from earth to the moon.

Krista Johnson, ex­hi­bi­tions co­or­di­na­tor with Lee County Al­liance for the Arts, says cul­tural lead­ers meet reg­u­larly with air­port of­fi­cials to de­cide what ap­pro­pri­ate col­lec­tions of work de­serve to be show­cased in the con­courses and atri­ums. The re­la­tion­ship be­gan in 2005, when the new ter­mi­nal opened—with its panoramic win­dows and large walls ca­pa­ble of dis­play­ing ma­jor works. “Peo­ple in the com­mu­nity call us with spe­cial pro­jects and dif­fer­ent ways to ap­proach the space,” she says.

From match­ing 5-foot sea­horse stat­ues, dis­played in sup­port of Golisano Chil­dren's Hospi­tal, to orig­i­nal paint­ings, com­mis­sioned to pay trib­ute to mil­i­tary re­turn­ing from con­flicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, se­lec­tions are made with com­mu­nity guide­lines and the chance to cel­e­brate artists in mind. “We tr y to have a mix of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional work,” Johnson ex­plains.

For the Al­liance for the Arts, it’s more than just beau­ti­fy­ing walls. Much of the art can be pur­chased, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion con­nects buy­ers from around the world look­ing to ac­quire works by lo­cal artists—that are first seen on dis­play at RSW. “We sell and ship to folks who fly in from any and ev­ery­where,” Johnson adds.

There’s never been any con­tro­versy around works la­beled “of­fen­sive” or “ob­scene”—a strong part­ner­ship be­tween RSW and the Al­liance for the Arts en­sures no work gets se­lected for ex­hi­bi­tion that doesn’t meet stan­dards for taste and qual­ity. There can some­times be phys­i­cal chal­lenges in put­ting to­gether a col­lec­tion of pieces that best uti­lizes the avail­able space at the air­port. But work­ing out those de­tails pro­vides ben­e­fits both to the fa­cil­i­ties and artis­tic com­mu­nity.

“For the artist, this is such a won­der­ful place to have your

work seen by many peo­ple,” Johnson says. Af­ter all, few mu­se­ums in the re­gion boast so many visi­tors in the year as pass through the na­tion’s 43rd largest air­port.

For the air­port author­ity, the pro­gram first and fore­most lets RSW play a larger role in en­hanc­ing travel ex­pe­ri­ences for visi­tors to the re­gion. Air­port man­age­ment in­creas­ingly has taken on that “hospi­tal­ity re­spon­si­bil­ity,” rather than re­ly­ing en­tirely on air­lines to care for guests.

In ad­di­tion to im­prov­ing con­nec­tiv­ity around the air­port and draw­ing a va­ri­ety of food, bev­er­age and re­tail ven­dors, the pre­sen­ta­tion of pro­fes­sional art­work turns what could be an in­dus­trial en­vi­ron­ment into an invit­ing one. That’s im­por­tant when cus­tomers can get trapped in ter­mi­nals for hours.

More­land and Johnson re­veal that RSW plans to soon put up a new ex­hibit that in­cludes mul­ti­me­dia work. The dis­play is some­thing that will en­gage visi­tors in in­no­va­tive and ex­cit­ing ways—lift­ing the cul­tural rep­u­ta­tion of South­west Florida to even greater heights.

The pre­sen­ta­tion of pro­fes­sional art­work turns what could be an in­dus­trial en­vi­ron­ment into an invit­ing one.

Buck Ward, The Old Tree 2

St. An­drew Catholic School, Diana Vil­ladolid

Mike Kiniry, The Sky is the Limit, Inkjet Mono­type Col­lage

Trafal­gar El­e­men­tary School, He­len Gar­cia-Valdez

Michelle Rothacker, Above and Be­yond, Mixed Me­dia

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