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Fort Myers’ River Basin Mural Project pays tribute to the city’s early history with the Caloosahatchee River

Caloosahatchee_River_bridge.jpg
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In the mid-1800’s, the Caloosahatchee River served as the key to the economy in Fort Myers. It served as the main transportation route and it drove commerce. To honor the river’s role in the foundation of Fort Myers’ history, the city will pay tribute through a new art installment.

Funding for the River Basin Mural Project was approved early this month. The art display will have 53 vertical murals and four asphalt murals, each telling the story of Fort Myers’ early relationship with the Caloosahatchee River.

The project will be in Downtown Fort Myers; along Edwards Drive, Hendry Street and Bay Street.

Shari Shifrin, the artist project manager and executive director of the Fort Myers Mural Society, served on the committee to select historic photographs and postcards that the artists would recreate in the murals.

An app, Otocast, will have a narrative accompanying each mural. Visitors can walk from each mural and listen to the audible history each mural portrays; including the history of a Caloosa warrior, the Coca Cola bottling plant, and Thomas Edison’s steamboat.

Shifrin said 36 diverse, local artists contributed to the project. “The most exciting thing about it is the interaction with so many different artists from all sorts of demographics that we're able to work together on one project,” Shifrin said.

While each artist created their own art, Shifrin said many artists researched their topics together to better understand the history.

Have you looked around lately? We're eradicating our history. Historic buildings are coming down and giant condos are going up. Eventually, that River Basin project might be all that we have left of history.
Shari Shifrin, artist project manager and executive director of the Fort Myers Mural Society

“As you walk the [River Basin Mural Project], you can completely see that it wasn't painted by one person,” Shifrin said. “The paintings next to one another complement each other.”

The art installment pays a lasting tribute to Fort Myers’ history. Shifrin said this is more important than ever.

“Have you looked around lately? We're eradicating our history,” Shifrin said. “Historic buildings are coming down and giant condos are going up. Eventually, that River Basin project might be all that we have left of history.”

Sam Taylor created two murals for the project: Elvis at the Fort Myers’ City Auditorium and Captain F. A. Hendry.

Originally from Port Charlotte, Taylor was a tattoo artist at Paradise Tattoo on Fort Myers Beach, which was destroyed by Hurricane Ian.

The mural project allowed her to focus on something aside from trying to find a new location for Paradise Tattoo.

“To put my attention towards creating art for the community in that way after that happened was very cathartic. It’s been fun to learn about the history and to be a part of it because it’s a permanent installation downtown,” Taylor said. “I feel like it's going to spark a lot of conversation around the history [of Fort Myers].”

She said it gave her the opportunity to paint something to make history stand out to people.

“I wanted to compose a piece that would kind of tell a story. So it wasn’t just a portrait. I included places and things that were relevant to them as well,” Taylor said.

Shari Shifrin, the artist project manager, said the River Basin Mural Project will be finished around the beginning of February.

“The mural society exists to bring forward the history of the city with art as the vehicle,” Shifrin said. “We used art, local artists and our artistic abilities to tell the story that’s untold.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at katiefogarty22@gmail.com