Welcome to our 60th Anniversary
A community’s art scene speaks to its quality of life and emphasizes the critical role art plays in everything we do as a society. Here in Southwest Florida, residents and thousands of tourists recognize the Naples Art Association (NAA) as a cultural resource and as a leader in art education. The von Liebig Art Center which is operated by the NAA serves as a working art center where artists, as well as all members of the community, have access to activities and programs which allow each person to tap into their inner artist.
The appreciation of and participation in the arts cultivate creativity and innovative thinking. These are major factors in personal growth, a robust education system, a versatile work force and a healthy economic climate. For 60 years, the NAA has been tightly woven into the fabric of this community, promoting the value of art education and emphasizing the impact arts have on economic development. To think, it all started with the dream of three artists.
Our humble beginnings
The year was 1954. The population of Naples had just passed 1,465. But, as small a town as we were then, we were already an arts community. Although the Naples Art Association was incorporated in 1954 for the princely sum of $5.80, one of the seeds that was to blossom into the Naples Art Association was actually sown years earlier and, appropriately, by a florist. Her name was Grace Lake.
Already an accomplished artist, Grace began painting local landscapes almost immediately. Within a few months, in March 1950, an exhibition of 20 of her oils was held at the original Naples Beach Hotel that was then closer to the pier and was the center of Naples social life in the early days.
Meanwhile, two other newcomers to Naples with a similar passion for art were about to find each other and begin a lifelong friendship. They were George Rogers and Elsie Upham.
In 1954, George placed an ad in the Collier County News calling artists to a meeting at the Naples Woman’s Club. Several artists responded, including Grace Lake. Within a few months the trio had filed a petition to charter the Naples Art Association. Grace Lake was named its first president. Over the next few years, each of these dynamic, energetic and visionary trios served as president.
Back then, NAA membership was a little over 30 men and women. Members met regularly and in 1956 began to exhibit their work in collective shows at Grace Lake’s flower shop on Third Street South or sometimes on the grounds of the old hotel.
In the 1950s, art instruction wasn’t available in Collier County Schools. So, from the very beginning, in addition to exhibiting their own work, members volunteered their time, energy and resources to encourage art in others and began an outreach program that continues to this day. The first outdoor art shows, now known as Art in the Park, was started to showcase original handmade artwork of member artist.
The twin foundations of art appreciation and art education had been laid. Upon this solid base, one of the oldest cultural institutions in Naples began to take shape.
In 1980 NAA members and volunteers organized the first Spring Art Show in Cambier Park. It was a huge success. Now known as the Naples National Art Festival and a must-see event on many Neapolitans’ calendars today, the show is consistently voted among the top ten art festivals in the country by attending artists.
Held each year in February, the Naples National showcases the talents of close to 300 local, national and international artists working in a wide variety of media.
The event draws more than 20,000 visitors and has a major economic impact for the downtown area restaurants and merchants.
By 1983, NAA membership had swelled to over 700 members and the number of students attending classes had passed 400. The Association was firing on all cylinders.
The National wasn’t the only event preoccupying organizers. For several years during this decade NAA hosted a number of Beaux Arts Balls. Usually held in January, they had very inventive themes, and everyone seemed to enjoy getting dressed up for the special occasions. One theme was Circus, Circus, for example, while another had a Japanese theme, giving plenty of scope for creativity.
By the end of the decade, NAA was truly gaining momentum. Membership was at an alltime high. Events were attracting record crowds. Student enrollment was growing, the curriculum was extending and the organization’s prestige had reached national status. NAA’s time had come. It was time for a permanent home.
A new home for the community’s art center
On March 6, 1994 under the headline Arts in the Park? Naples Daily News invited the public to comment on a proposed plan to house the Naples Players and the Naples Art Association in downtown Naples; an issue, they reported, that had “stirred controversy.”
“Naysayers,” the feature continued, “believe a park home for the Naples Players and the Naples Art Association would destroy precious open space and unduly favor those art groups over others. Proponents say an overall Cambier Park realignment would in fact create more open space and eliminate the need to ask taxpayers or donors to pay for another site; at Cambier the arts groups should pay for construction.”
Two months later on May 19, 1994 the City Council voted 6-1 in favor of the downtown redevelopment plan.
1994 was a watershed year for other reasons too. The Naples National attracted exhibitors from 27 states. Bette Young, Naples Art Association president and the organizer of the event told the media, “The quality and quantity of entries has greatly escalated in the last two years.”
In 1997 a major donation from William and Suzanne von Liebig and a second large donation from the Frederick O. Watson Foundation allowed the funding needed to secure the building of a community art center.
The Naples Art Association von Liebig Art Center was officially dedicated and opened to the public on November 22, 1998. Programming expanded to include a steady offering of adult classes, eight weeks of children’s art classes began in the summer to encourage and connect art to the academics students were learning in the classroom.
As part of community outreach, free classes were offered to physically challenged and low-income adults. Founders, Show of Shows and National Art Encounter became regular exhibitions hosted by the Naples Art Association. The Naples National grew as well as Art in the Park. The community art center had become the premiere visual arts center in Naples.
6 decades of artistic excellence
Today, The Naples Art Association, its’ shows, events and multiple education and outreach programs, have become an integral part of life in Naples. It has matured over the years into a respected institution that has enriched thousands of lives, young and old and continues to do so.
The Naples Art Association continues to develop initiatives that support the mission and expand the understanding of how art impacts our lives. Programs like ARTS cool that connects art with science, math, or history, to Art in Alzheimer’s that connects participants to their inner self through art appreciation, or the Business of Being an Artist which delves into the business practices that help artist grow their careers. In Collier County, the Naples Art Association has contributed to a robust arts and cultural community that gives us a competitive advantage over other areas and is a prime reason people choose to live here.
Come see why the Naples Art Association at The von Liebig Art Center has been voted one of the best galleries in Naples, enjoy the second largest art resource library in Southwest Florida, take a class with a master instructor or find the perfect gift in our one of a kind gift shop. Visit Naplesart.org for information on upcoming
events and schedule of classes and workshops.