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Arts for ACT gallery in the Fort Myers River District reopens Friday, July 7th

Since 2001, Arts for ACT Gallery has occupied the former location of the Sidney Davis Men’s Shop in the century-old Arcade Building in downtown Fort Myers. Over that span, it has exhibited the art of local legends Robert Rauschenberg, Darryl Pottorf and internationally-acclaimed artist Marcus Jansen.

“We will usually have the first show for any well-known artist,” said Gallery Director Claudia Goode. “I mean, we had for Marcus Jansen, we were his first showing. He showed here before he showed anywhere else.”

The gallery has had its challenges. For one, it weathered four years of street closures, one-way traffic and maddening construction during the City’s award-winning Streetscape project — which replaced all the underground utilities and streets in the 52-block core area that comprises the Fort Myers River District.

“So true. Yeah, we’ve seen it all,” Goode conceded. “There was green fence out there. We’ve seen the brick put in and the brick come out. I mean, we’ve just been through a lot.”

But the disruptions resulting from Streetscape don’t begin to compare to the nine-month closure that followed Hurricane Ian.

“That was a big one,” Claudia deadpanned. “So when we finally heard that the hurricane was probably going to hit us, I came here and tried to bring stuff up off the floor a little bit, unplug electric, stuff like that, never thinking that anything was going to happen down here, you know.”

Ian inundated shops and restaurants along Edwards, Bay and First Streets with up to four feet of surge. Instead of the one or two inches of water that Goode feared, the gallery was flooded with more than two feet of muddy, mucky river water that covered floors, rugs and artwork with slime and silt. It didn’t just come in through door openings. The water, and all that mud, came right up through the gallery’s wood floor. Goode subsequently discovered that the gallery has no subfloor. Its beautiful wood floors rest on a network of joists that sit right on the ground.

“Well, we knew there was dirt under there but we did not know that it was possible for a hurricane to actually come up under our floor, which it did, and so, two foot of water or more in the gallery.”

But it wasn’t the water that turned Claudia’s stomach. It was the stinky, slippery slime.

“My reaction was one of disbelief because I could not imagine how much slime was on these floors,” Claudia exclaimed. “We had slime for about 2 inches that we had to get out of here, and we had to roll up the rugs and throw them out onto the street for the people to pick up. All of the displays. I had … People would come off the street and try and help us … because it was us girls, you know … “

Besides the carpeting and displays, the gallery lost hundreds of paintings and other works of art. Since the gallery works on consignment, the loss was a blow for the dozens of artists who display and sell their art at Arts for ACT.

While the clean-up and restoration seemed overwhelming at times, neither Goode nor ACT ever considered making the closure permanent. Arts for ACT is not just an integral part of the downtown Fort Myers art scene. All of the money the gallery makes after paying its rent, utilities and the artists’ share of sales goes to support ACT.

“So who we are benefitting and who we are owned by is Abuse Counseling and Treatment, which is domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking center. We have three shelters, one in Cape Coral, one in Fort Myers and one in LaBelle.”

Happily, the gallery’s long ordeal is finally drawing to a close. Arts for ACT officially reopens on Friday, July 7, in conjunction with Art Walk.

“I hope everybody will come down and see what we’re all about, because we’ve got a totally different look now. Totally different.”

Not only is the look different, but so is the art inside. Known as a haven for outsider and nontraditional contemporary art, the newly-restored Arts for ACT will feature an emerging or established artist each month in its main gallery and the work of approximately 50 co-op artists everywhere else.

But two things that remain constant are those beautiful restored wood floors and the gallery’s signature Soho-style distressed brick walls. They may show telltale signs of Ian’s wrath, but they endure — just like Arts for ACT Gallery & Boutique.

“It’s great. I’m very happy. I get teared up when I think about that. I think it’s a new beginning for us.”


  • While an accomplished artist, Claudia Goode is best known throughout Southwest Florida as the curator and motivating force at Arts for ACT Gallery in the Arcade Building on First Street. She has served as the gallery’s curator since 2003. Her myriad duties include hosting a monthly first Friday “artful evening” and “meet the artist” reception, choosing the artists and curating the artworks that will be featured each month and then hanging the show, which often includes hundreds of two and three-dimensional works of art. For example, prior to Hurricane Ian,  Claudia curated more than 20 one-person art exhibits at Arts for ACT in 2022, as well as a juried group exhibition consisting of over 40 artists. 
  • Goode has been part of The Arts for ACT Fine Art Auction for the past 20 years, organizing the live and silent auctions artists’ donations and has creating the program catalogue for the art auction.  Goode is also a past board member of the River District Alliance in downtown Fort Myers, and was a founding member and, for many years, the chair of Fort Myers Art Walk.
  • Claudia Goode has been pursuing her passion for art since she was five years old. For the longest time, collage was her medium of choice. That changed when she took a drawing/painting class on surrealism taught by Victor Flores. Since then, she has infused her drawings, painting and collages with a dreamlike quality filled with surrealistic symbolism using paint, paper, photos, found objects and more to render her compositions. To perfect her treatment of light and shadow, Claudia studied with realism artist Terry Lynn Spry and, more recently, with Francisco Gilia, who has nurtured her love of oil painting and helped Claudia perfect her technique.
  • Goode credits contractor Mike Florence with saving the gallery’s historic wood floors. “He said I think I can fix these floors,” Claudia recounts. “So he smoothed them out, sanded and repainted them and now we’re waiting for the poly to dry.”
  • In addition to the floors, the contractor had to tear out and replace the bottom four feet of all the drywall throughout the gallery.
  • While the distressed brick walls in the main gallery survived, the damage suffered on the bottom two feet is visible to the eye. “The bricks started crumbling, and we actually had to vacuum the bricks and get that crumbling off,” Claudia reports. “But, so they’re still there, they’re still good, but they are fragile.”
  • In the past, Arts for ACT would stage three shows each month, one in the main gallery, another in a back room gallery and the third in the gallery’s small office. Going forward, the gallery will still exhibit the work of a featured artist, but the rest of the gallery will display the work of up to 50 co-op artists. While most of the co-op artists expect to change the work on display monthly, the gallery does require them to swap out old works for new at least once a quarter so that visitors will always find something new.
  • Featured artists are usually booked months, even years, in advance. But because of the uncertainty surrounding the date of the gallery’s reopening, there are dates both in 2023 and 2024 that are available. So Goode encourages interested artists to contact her if they would like to have their work featured in the main gallery.
  • Goode is encouraged by the progress all the downtown businesses have made in recovering from Hurricane Ian, and credits the City with facilitating that effort. “The City of Fort Myers seems to be on the right track now. There’s going to be a lot of activities. I’ve been talking with the City. They’ve got that Arts Alive and seems to be good, hopefully we’ll get this going again and be back to where Art Walk and Music Walk were big hits, and, you know help all the businesses.”
  • In addition to the three shelters that Claudia mentions, ACT offers a 24-hour helpline, children's program, counseling, (both individual and group), economic empowerment program which includes financial and health literacy, Injunction for Protection legal service, life skills education, job skills evaluation and training along with GED assistance and ESOL. In its non-residential outreach program, ACT provides long-term counseling, therapy and support, economic empowerment services, a rape crisis center that conducts forensic examinations, advocacy department that provides advocacy through the judicial system, and a legal program for Injunctions for Protection.
  • Abuse Counseling and Treatment has been providing these programs and services for over 44 years in Lee, Hendry and Glades Counties.
  • All services provided to victims of domestic violence and their children and survivors of sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and human trafficking are available free of charge.
  • ACT’s 24-hour helpline number is 239-939-3112. Hendry and Glades Counties can call our domestic violence helpline toll-free at 1-800-500-1119 or our sexual assault hotline toll-free at 1-888-956-7273 or email act@actabuse.com.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.