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United Arts Council, CAPA merge to get county arts plan moving


Harriet Howard Heithaus   | Naples Daily News

Two organizations have joined forces to make sure an inclusive arts center for Collier County gets a sporting chance. 

Literally. 

The new Paradise Sports Complex could add performing and participatory arts to its space if a merged organization of the United Arts Council of Collier County and CAPA (Cultural And Performing Arts Center) and the county agree. Bill Drackett, CAPA president, and Laura Burns, executive director of United Arts Council of Collier County, announced both the merger and the proposal, among other plans, this week.

"Laura and I and all the other organizations were all at the same meetings a year ago, figuring out how all the organizations were going to help with the county study," said Drackett.

"When we first got into this and started looking at the mission statements it was scarily similar, even from the beginning," he added.

"It became clear, as far as the UAC perspective goes, in working with CAPA," Burns added, "how that related to the strategic plan over all and what a joined force would look like in an effort to propel this strategic plan forward even faster."

"More work gets done when you work together, and this is an ultimate way to work together."

Previously: Arts and Culture plan jumps its first hurdle; next stop, Collier commissioners

And: Arts and us: Collier leaders spell out financial impact of arts from national survey

Arts plan, with county OK, swings into action

Comments that helped forge the county-sanctioned plan confirmed that arts are major tourism draws and income producers in Collier County. They generate an estimated $107.7 million annually in total economic activity, according to a 2015 survey. 

UAC and CAPA, along with other county arts organizations, have been working on an arts and culture strategic plan that was approved in March by county commissioners. That strategic plan identifies East Naples, including the area to the south —where CAPA has been working to get an arts space for nearly 15 years — as an arts desert.

The late Erich Kunzel, pops conducting star known for his recordings with the Cincinnati Pops and televised National Symphony Orchestra concerts each Fourth of July, was its first voice. Kunzel, also a former pops director for the Naples Philharmonic, lived in the area, and felt East Naples needed an arts center. He served as its president before his death from cancer in 2009.

The organization had been hamstrung by the need for a location, although it has come close several times. So for years it had planned for the eventual center and found places in East Naples in which local artists could perform.

"CAPA had a history of doing performance concert series in various venues," Drackett said. It also developed "expertise we've spent on facility development with a variety of international groups. It's still very much there. And, as Laura said, United Arts Council has expertise on so many levels that it really went together well."

There's no dedicated public exhibition space and only two public indoor performance spaces in that quadrant of the county:

  •  Opera Naples' approximately 260-seat facility, the Wang Opera Center. It already handles a vocal academy, studio operas, a concert series and summer opera camps, as well as renting the building for church services on weekends
  •  The Golden Gate Community Center's Joan Jenks Auditorium. That space, which can hold 150 seats, is used annually as an election polling place, for weekly dance classes and for private events. It was pressed into service as FEMA quarters after Hurricane Irma, sending the arts group that uses it, The Studio Players of Naples, scrambling for rehearsal and set building space.

CAPA will retire its name and adopt that of the UAC. "When we started talking about names, we said why do we even need a name change? United Arts Council is great," Drackett said. Three members of its board will replace retiring ones on the UAC 11-member board.

John Watson, former head of school for Seacrest Country Day School, and a CAPA vice president, will join UAC as vice president; Suzette Fernandes, a retired director and senior project executive at IBM, will move from her CAPA treasurer position to the same one on the UAC board. Gregg Zavodny, also a CAPA board member, was named to the UAC board as well.

The group is hoping to bring more CAPA board members into its committees.

From the archives: 2018 was Southwest Florida arts groups' year for building, rebuilding, getting ready for building

It's a summer of negotiations for arts

The newly blended UAC is in negotiations, which Burns expects to be completed this summer, on three fronts:

  • to become the implementing organization of the arts and culture strategic plan passed by commissioners
  • to finalize a public art plan in the Bayshore District of the Community Redevelopment Agency. That area in particular has been anxious to add public murals to its mix. 
  • to develop and negotiate a separate contract to provide arts services within the sports complex

Burns warned its goals won't be realized quickly. The UAC will be "particularly sensitive to the COVID environment, the funding environment and the mood of the community in participation." 

"Because of the pandemic and the downturn of the economy, it just means the implementation of the plan will happen in stages that are carefully crafted, and imaginative — and realistic," she said. 

The Paradise Sports Complex, which sits squarely in the area CAPA had served, at 3940 City Gate Blvd. N., isn't fully developed yet. Just four of its 20 fields are ready for play.  

Sports fields in hot, humid Collier County, often dependent on school schedules, can be dormant a good deal of time. 

"I think what the county sees is they have this investment in the sports complex that will not be in use all of the day or all of the evening," Drackett. " And when people come to sporting events, they're also looking for other things to do in the county."

So part of the UAC plan would develop and negotiate a separate contract to provide services within the complex. It would be a good fit, agreed Nick Casalanguida, deputy county manager for Collier County who has worked with the planning and construction of the complex.

"We've designed the stadium and the amphitheater with events like concerts in mind," he said. "I think they're excited about working together." He said the UAC group is discussing the options with both the county and Sports Force Parks, the management company for the complex.

UAC target: firm autumn plans

"You'll see a lot of changes and big announcements coming out in September," Burns said. "Stay tuned."

Both the UAC and CAPA are planning a formal rollout of their union during the UAC  recognition of its 40th anniversary, tentatively in December.

Right now, both said, planning anything has to be done with fingers crossed. But they're holding out for a celebration.

"There'll be Champagne involved, no matter what," Drackett said. 

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.