The History of the Cape Coral Festival of the Arts
by Jeff Koehn - CapeCoral.com
The Cape Coral Festival of the Arts began in January 1985.
The brain child of long time Cape Coral resident John Jacobsen, the festival was born out of what Jacobsen felt, at the time, was a need for a true art festival in Lee County.
In 1985, Jacobsen had only lived in Cape Coral for a few short years. Jacobsen at the time was a fine arts artist and spent time traveling to the northern parts of the United States to participate in festivals.
Constantly traveling to participate in art festivals outside the area, he grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of true art festivals in Lee County. Around that time, Jacobsen had also become a member of the Cape Coral Rotary Club. He went to the organization with the idea of having Cape Coral host its own art festival. He explained that if done correctly an art festival could become a significant draw for both the city and the organization.
It did not take long for the Rotary Club to see the potential such a festival could have on the community. Soon they put Jacobsen in charge of making it happen. For the next year, Jacobsen spent hours, days, and weeks researching art festival schedules, not only around Florida, but across the country.
The result of all of his research was the realization that the art festival schedule typically stopped after Thanksgiving and did not start again until late January. Being an artist himself, Jacobsen felt that if Cape Coral hosted an art festival in early January it would attract artists, that after a two month layoff, would be hungry to sell their work due to the two month layoff in festivals at that time of the year. The club decided to hold their festival the second week of January. The Cape Coral Festival of the Arts essentially kicked off the art festival season by holding the event during this time of the year.
The club nor Jacobsen realized the significance that holding their festival in early January would have on the rest of the art festival world. It did not take long before other festival organizers began noticing the success the Cape Coral Festival of the Arts had and began moving their festivals to earlier in January, some even moved theirs to December. While they did not hold the title of kicking off the art festival season for long, the club felt some satisfaction in knowing the impact they had on the art festival world.
The festival began its history calling Cape Coral’s Jaycee Park home. The first nine years of the festival took place at the park. The festival was an instant success. It not only attracted local artists and art patrons, but people from all over the state. By 1994, the festival had become so popular that it outgrew the park. In 1995 organizers moved the festival to the Tarpon Point area in South Cape Coral, or what now known as The Resort at Marina Village. The move to Tarpon Point proved to be a challenge especially when it came to weather. During one year, the festival was besieged with over eight inches of rain. The rain turned the area into one giant mud puddle. Cars were literally having to be towed out from the parking area.
Realizing that in order to continue to expand the festival it would have to be moved to another location, Jacobsen and the Rotary Club began searching for ideas on where to relocate the festival.
An idea that began gaining traction was holding the festival on Cape Coral Parkway. The Rotary Club and Jacobsen soon went before Cape Coral’s City Council asking for approval to hold the festival on the parkway, essentially shutting the parkway down to automotive traffic over that weekend. With all of the festivals held on streets throughout Cape Coral today, that request may not seem like such a momentous task. In those days, it was a different story, “Going before the council with this request was no small task, this was back when there were no festivals like the Holiday Festival of Lights, Bike Nights, etc. held in downtown Cape Coral. We had really had to sell them on the benefit of closing down Cape Coral Parkway and holding this event each year.”
While their request was not met with approval on the first try, the club would not give up. Through persistence and hard work, the council finally granted approval to the idea and gave the festival the distinction of being the first event in Cape Coral to close down Cape Coral Parkway to hold an event.
Since that time, Cape Coral has continued to be the home of the art festival on the second weekend in January every year. The new location allowed the festival add new features such as a children’s play area, a rock climbing wall, children’s activity center and food from a variety of vendors and local restaurants.
Today, hundreds of artists and over 100,000 people pack the parkway the second weekend of January every year to participate in what has become one of Cape Coral’s most successful and long running annual events.