Two years ago, when Merlin Lickhalter and Rose Mary Everett began outlining their plans for a cultural festival here with changing national themes, people said "What?"
Now they're saying "Wow."
What began with an appetizer, a concert by the visiting Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra, has bloomed into an entire week of films, plays, concerts — even a daily helping of kid culture. The founding group's dream of a venture that would bring new understanding of the world and create new partnerships among local organizations, too, is set to be realized Saturday when the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 at the Philharmonic sets the theme for a week of Russian culture.
In fact, the festival has already informally started, with a pre-festival series of talks, movies and Russian folk music crafted by Collier County Public Libraries this week.
Several friendly forces have been major movers in bringing this festival into a front-and-center position it deserves:
n William Noll, whose contacts in the arts are worldwide, came aboard as its artistic director.
n The Philharmonic Center for the Arts, under the leadership of Kathleen van Bergen, offered collaboration with its powerhouse orchestra and use of its hall for several concerts, climaxing in a massive concert production of the opera "Eugene Onegin" next Thursday.
n Collier County Tourism Development Council announced its sponsorship, bringing some smart marketing to a festival with appeal around the state and nation as well as at home.
Collaborations have spread from downtown Naples, where the von Liebig Art Center will offer a show of contemporary Russian hyper-realism, to the newly opened Golisano Children's Museum of Naples (CMON), at the North Collier Regional Park off Livingston Road between Immokalee and Vanderbilt Beach Roads.There the staff is offering daily sessions for children to create their own matryoshka — the signature nesting dolls of Russia — and become characters in stagings of the classic Prokofiev musical fairy tale, "Peter and the Wolf."
The ArtsNaples World Festival has become a wonderful blend of our abundant local talent with visiting Russian virtuosity, including three concert pianists who are second to none; Russian conductor Vladimir Lande and Sergey I. Kislyak; Russian Federation ambassador, who is honorary chair. From this end, the investment has been equally impressive: The Naples Philharmonic Orchestra; the Naples International Film Festival, which forged a top-notch Russian film series at Silverspot; and museum staffs at the von Liebig, CMON and the Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art, where an exhibit of Louise Nevelson has been extended. To that should be added Sugden Community Theatre, where a distinctly Russian comedy we know as "The Inspector General" is set to poke fun next week at bureaucrats and those who would fool them.
To get an idea of how broad the festival has become — and to get your own tickets — visit the festival's website: www.artsnaplesworldfestival.org. Chances are good you'll come away with a reaction to hard work, faith and talent that's common to both countries: Bravo!