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Population boom boosts beach town art community

Population boom boosts beach town art community – City beat: Naples, Florida

Jane Hart

Neapolitans, residents of Naples, Fla., and its environs, are reaching record numbers. In fact according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Greater Naples area in Collier County, Fla., is the second-fastest-growing area in the country after Las Vegas. Reasons for the mass influx of snowbirds, retirees and even young families might include the enviable average temperature of 77 degrees, dependable blue skies, sandy white beaches, nearby eco-adventures, world-class golf courses, spas, shopping and gourmet dining. But whatever the draw, the explosion of new construction is a boon to art businesses located in this Gulf Coast destination.

“Twenty-five years ago there were only two galleries in the city of Naples,” said Roger Weatherburn-Baker, owner of the Weatherburn Gallery and president and founding member of the Naples Gallery Row Fine Art Dealer’s Association. “Now there are more than 65 art galleries in the city of Naples and more than 100 galleries in the greater Naples area, including the Marco Island and Bonita Springs regions.”

Weatherburn-Baker said the accelerated growth of the area has been most evident in the past 10 years. “Naples has among the highest per capita income in the state of Florida, and it is [growing]. So the area is seeing huge growth in terms of residential construction, and with that comes all of the attendant service industries. The success of the art business is very much tied into new construction in the area.”

The growth and wealth in the Greater Naples area keep cultural activities in high gear. In fact, tourists are now attracted to the area specifically as an art destination. “There are more than 20 cultural organizations in the Collier County area. In the last 12 months there have been more than 700 performances, more than 100 exhibits and festivals with more than one million total audience visitors,” said Michael Reagen, president of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. “In addition 100,000 volunteers have contributed to the arts and there are outreach programs which include another 75,000 participants.”

Along with its upper middle class residents, people visit the Greater Naples area from all over the world, and according to Reagen there were 149,000 visitors to Naples in the last 12 months representing 37 states and 63 foreign countries.

Olga Arkhangelskaya, owner of Gallery on Fifth, was attracted to Naples because of its reputation of growth and prosperity, as well as the fact that Naples is known for galleries which feature high-quality art. Arkhangelskaya also stated that as a beginning art gallery owner Naples was a good place to get started.

“Competition exists here in Naples,” said Arkhangelskaya, “but the competition isn’t as stiff as it would be in New York City.” She believes the Naples area still provides opportunity for younger gallery owners who are willing to start something new. Arkhangelskaya carries art from all over the world and said that as a younger gallery owner, she dares to experiment more than an established big gallery. The clientele in her gallery are a “savvy, educated and well-traveled group coming from Europe, the East coast, Midwest and even California.” Arkhangelskaya said the audience is fairly homogeneous from an economic standpoint and tends to be in their late 50s.

Weatherburn-Baker said he is seeing more money in younger hands–35 to 45 year olds–who are willing to make an important investment in quality art. Art in the Weatherburn Gallery typically ranges from $800 to $30,000, but there are pieces, which sell for more than $100,000.

Peak seasons for Naples’ art galleries are from Thanksgiving to Easter, but according to Weatherburn-Baker, the season is getting longer at both ends. He attributes this to world affairs that have people staying closer to home and staying longer.

And while the economy may have slowed businesses across the nation, Weatherburn-Baker stated that new galleries are still coming in “thick and fast.” “Naples is a little different from the rest of the world in that is it more insulated from the ups and downs of the economy. The area attracts people from all over the world, and these people have a high disposable income,” he said.

Arkhangelskaya agreed that people with money and lots of leisure time translate into business for her gallery. Still, she said, there is evidence of a depressed economy even in Naples. Arkhangelskaya, who remains optimistic, said, While the art market is depressed perhaps it is easier for a young gallery owner like myself to weather the storm because I am not accustomed to the past glory of a more established gallery owner.” Arkhangelskaya is working on cooperatives with other area galleries to capitalize on marketing and promotion efforts.

Weatherburn-Baker also admitted that there are local art businesses which have suffered in the current economy and doesn’t deny that Naples’ gallery owners need to be “on top of their game.” But cooperatives are not a new venture for Weatherburn-Baker. His gallery, The Weatherburn Gallery, located in Old Naples, is situated on well-known Gallery Row, an area covering about two-blocks on Broad Avenue South just off of Third Street and currently consisting of 11 galleries.

“Gallery Row was established as a destination to attract the serious art buyer who would appreciate a wide variety of art to choose from,” said Weatherburn-Baker. Gallery Row members coordinate show opening dates, and from January through April hold a monthly “Stroll the Row” event on Sunday evenings, which attract 300 to 400 people. Each gallery has a featured artist and many have entertainment, such as classical music performances.

The Gallery Row Fine Art Dealer’s Association affords members an opportunity to do cooperative marketing and promotion and features art from all over the world. “The ability to do cooperative marketing gives us more power for marketing and promotion” said Weatherburn-Baker. “In addition, as a group, we have agreed upon commonalities of integrity and honesty, and that is how we do business.”

Clearly, the crowds are flocking to this Southwestern Florida paradise, which got its name because of its resemblance to the bay in Naples, Italy. The Mediterranean weather, beautiful sunsets viewed from the Naples Pier, beach combing, fine dining and world-class art make Naples an art destination adventure.

SOURCES

* Gallery on Fifth, (239) 430-9200

* Naples Chamber of Commerce, (239) 262-6376

* Weatherburn gallery, (239) 263-8008

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