Naples studies its Spanish with ¡Arte Viva! year of Hispanic culture and arts

Harriet Howard Heithaus
Naples Daily News

A countywide festival announced last week — ¡Arte Viva! — is so grassroots it was growing before Collier County officials and organizations even had a name for it.

But the end result will have nurtured blooms: a themed nine months that showcases Collier's wide spectrum of Hispanic arts and culture, as just a few of the events listed here demonstrate:

  • Larger-than-life art. An acrylic-and-aluminum kinetic sculpture that covers the north lawn of The Baker Museum at Artis—Naples, "Jesus Rafael Soto's "Extension and Half Sphere," is already on display there. Elsewhere, Ricardo Saltero's "La Calavera Catrina," eight 9-foot, whimsical fiberglass sculptures of skeletal characters from the Mexican Dia de los Muertes, appear around the Naples Botanical Garden Oct. 1-Jan. 29.

"Frida Fest," celebrating Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's colorful, fantasy-imbued art, takes over for a month in the Naples Art District. Murals, made with guidance from Soltero, the "Calavera" artist, and life-size decorations welcome visitors to a colorful month of art there Jan. 1 to Feb. 2. (Kahlo, whose 115th birthday anniversary is being celebrated this year, figures largely in the events.)

  • Musical performance. Gulfshore Opera offers one of the earliest, with "Latin Infusion!",  an evening of Latin pop and jazz with dinner at Bodega Ole on Nov. 17.

Later come two approaches to the best known Spanish opera legend, "Carmen." It's  high-intensity opera during the Opera Naples Festival Under the Stars from March 28-30. Then it flips — literally — to a choreographed acrobatic re-retelling from Troupe Vertigo's "Latin Extravaganza" at Artis—Naples from April 4-8.

Opera Naples is also staging "Frida," an opera based on the life of  Kahlo, as part of its al fresco festival.

  • One-of-a-kind events. One at Naples Art brings realistically detailed paper costumes by an artist familiar to Naples, Isabelle de Borchgrave; in "Miradas de Mujeres" she recreates the elegant dresses that were Frida Kahlo's trademark. It's there for March only.  Another is a 26-work exhibition of "Clyde Butcher's Cuba: The Natural Beauty" at the Marco Island Historical Museum Jan. 24 to April 23. The Naples Art District's December Feliz Navid studio art tour Dec. 17 will incorporate Mexican holiday traditions found during Las Posadas, including artwork, piñatas and more. 
  • Youth focus. A Calaveras student art exhibition informed by Dia de los Muertos is at the Marco Island Center for the Arts Nov. 7-22. The Art EQuity Project undertaken by Naples Art will pair a reception with a virtual "walk through" of art by Immokalee 14-18-year-old students, "Sueños Inspiradores."
  • Weekend festivals. The first was scheduled for Friday, Sept. 16, with a Fiesta Fest at Felipe' Mexican Taqueria locations. 4255 U.S. 41 N., Naples and at 2270 Logan Blvd. N. The restaurant chain opened National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, with free performances from Danza Folkorica at 7 and 8 p.m. respectively and live music from 7 to 10 p.m. A Dia de Los Muertos Celebration at Naples Botanical Garden Nov. 5-6 incorporates family events with arts/crafts stations, live music and dance, tasty dishes to sample and special displays.

Groups thought alike, needed to talk

The number has increased so quickly, the 40 events on the news release for last Wednesday's announcement was already outdated by the time the announcement was made. There now are more than 50 themed events, according to Melleky. "It's growing all the time," he added. For a full list of events, see the website, taking care to include its hyphen:

An initial meeting to bring what is now a dozen local organizations together to implement the county-approved Arts and Culture Strategic Plan lit the match, Melleky said. At least 12 county organizations have been working on the festival since then.

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"As we were talking we realized a lot of their upcoming activities were really interrelated. They realized it had a impact in the Hispanic arts and culture — that's what they were trying to do, and they were celebrating certain artists and events," he said. "It just happened naturally.

"This yearlong celebration puts a spotlight on our rich and vibrant Hispanic culture, both here in our community and bringing in artists from around the world," he told the assembled group of nonprofit organizations, local restaurants and hospitality representatives invited to the news conference.

Arts gets first starring role with county

"This is a very exciting day for all of us in Collier. We all know, and Collier County's going to figure it out real soon, that arts and culture are vital to our citizens and to all who work and live in Collier County," District 4 Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor, who also spoke to the group.

Andy Solis, District 2 commissioner, fortified her comments with statistics. 

"With more than 2 million visitors coming to the Paradise Coast it (tourism) is the really foundation, almost, of our economy. Our 1.9 million visitors to Collier County generate an impact of almost $2.5 billion. It's amazing," said Solis, who also serves as chair of the Tourism Development Council (TDC) in Collier County.

Some of the events that will constitute ¡Arte Viva! have gotten help from the TDC —  $363,000, in its first round of grants to local groups.

"It's great to have all these organizations working together and collaborating to bring a wide variety of activities between now and June 22," Melleky declared afterward. He urged Collier Countians not to see the upcoming events as solely for tourists, but to take advantage of the activities, a good number of which are free. Many hands-on events are at times of the year when locals can enjoy them as well.

"Try and come to visit the arts, because Collier County is arts," he said.

For more information on ¡Arte Viva! see the website:–

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/ Reach her at 239-213-6091.