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Art is alive and kickin’ in the Cape: Cape Coral Art League on a mission to cultivate artists

March 8, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

"Art is dead." It's a phrase that penetrates our psyche subconsciously, through decades of exposure to pop culture and spending cuts in Congress. But is art really dead? In the heart of Cape Coral, art is alive and kicking at the Cape Coral Art League.

Appropriately located off Cultural Park Boulevard, Cape Coral's Art League began more than 50 years ago with seven local women who opened up a studio to share a cup of coffee, while they painted.

"Most of the time they didn't paint, just yacked," joked Carmen Sprague, vice president of Cape Coral Art League.

Not your cliche art snobs, the whimsical liveliness and social ambience of the Art League is humanized by the artists that make up its organization.

An artistic community of experts and novice alike, Cape Coral Art League is a close-knit organization which promotes an inclusive outlet for creative minds. Sprague was drawn to the league 12 years ago.

"I wanted to do something where I can have a voice," she recalled .

Fact Box


Special March offerings

The Cape Coral Art League has a handful of special classes this month:

* Capturing the Light

A three-day workshop to teach "shadows, designing with light, and adding glow and drama" to your work will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 15, 16 and 17. The workshop will be presented by Lynn Ferris, an award-winning watercolorist. The fee is $300 for members; $345 for non-members, with the non-member fee including league membership for 2018.

* Digitally Photographing Your artwork

A one-day workshop for those who would like to learn how to use a digital camera to photograph their artwork for show exhibition, making prints or for website use will be offered from 9 am. to 4 p.m. on March 23. The workshop will be presented by Carmen Sprague. The fee is $85 for members; $110 for non-members.

* Landscapes with Palette Knife in Oil

A two-day landscapes workshop will be offered from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. March 30-31. The workshop will be presented by Jan Ellen Atkielski, a nationally recognized "'contemporary impressionist" who often works directly from nature, emphasizing the effect of color and natural light in her work." The fee is $175 for members and $220 for non-members with the non-member fee including league membership for 2018.

The workshops will be offered at the Cape Coral Art League, 516 Cultural Park Blvd. For more information or to register call 772-5657 or visit

When she joined the organization in 2006, it was half the size it is now, with fewer than 130 members.

Today, the league is still on the smaller-scale compared with other art organizations local to Southwest Florida, but that's what draws members.

"Here, you have a great opportunity to get hands on experience with someone who's been in the field for long time." Sprague said. "You have more of an equal opportunity to stand out in the crowds. If you strive for more, its available and it's easier to get."

Sprague started as a board member her first year of joining the Art League, where she lobbied the rest of the board to host photography classes and shows. Holding an academic degree in photography and design, with over four decades as a photographer, Sprague shares her love for art by teaching workshops and classes regularly at the Art League.

In a culture becoming more and more dominated by technology, art is undeniably transforming. But that doesn't mean art is dying.

"Several of my students brought in an iPad a few weeks ago. It's a great way to learn, to get your kids to learn and get the next generation involved." Sprague believes that smart phones are shifting the future of photography. "Everyone's snapping pictures. Anyone can be a photographer with their smart phone."

Sprague deflected to her selfie-stick, with which she has an apparent love-hate relationship.

"I was so adamant about not having a selfie stick -so, my son got me one as a gag gift for Christmas," she said.

Her sardonic distaste comes from a traditional artistic trait, of which artists enjoy using their senses when making art.

"I like clicking. When taking a photo, I want to feel the 'click' of my fingertip. Just the same way with reading the news. I'm old school. I like feeling the paper in my hands," said Sprague, who was formerly an editor of two newspapers.

But, not even Sprague's old-school artistic heart can resist today's techie culture.

"When I started using it, I thought: 'This is cool.' I can see why the younger generation is into selfie sticks."

But is sensuality in art-making dying as technology impregnates our culture? Sprague would disagree.

"Technology is not what's going to be the love of your life. It can't kiss you on the lips, it can't tell you it loves you. Technology has its place, it's powerful, and it's really important," Sprague said.

The seasoned photographer's artwork is unique to her artisan counterparts, utilizing technology to capture her work.

"I don't think the arts will ever lose their value, or be made smaller or insignificant. Because, you're using yourself to create value, to create something you're proud of, something you actually did with your own hands, your own mind, from start to finish," she said.

The Art League has signed a 99-year lease with Cape Coral City for $1/year, which means art in Cape Coral is here to say.

"The City has been very gracious to us," Sprague said of the Art League's partnership with Cape Coral.

Cape Coral Art League has some of the most competitive rates for art summer camps in Southwest Florida.

"Single moms kept calling us and asking us if we had low-cost pricing for summer camp, because they couldn't afford the art camps around here. So, we felt there was a need for affordable art camps for kids in our community, and that's how we started doing summer camp," Sprague said.

The Art League's summer camp is $60/week for seven full weeks during summertime. Rates include art supplies, lunch and snacks.

"Children are our future," Sprague said. "If you teach them the value of the arts-not just painting pictures, but being responsible cleaning your brushes, putting away paint, taking care of your things. It resembles your life. That value adheres to your private life, how you value others and how you value yourself."

The Art League is focused on inclusivity, and encouraging participants rather than judging their work. The only time there is judging is during art shows, where members can freely submit their work for display. This approach on artful expression gives both children and adults increased self-esteem.

"I was a different person when I started working here," said Kim Harris, who is an administrator at the Art League. "I used to be in a shell. Now, when artists don't hear me singing out loud, they ask me if I'm OK."

That's probably because Harris sustains long-term euphoric side-affects from years of working in the aesthetic halls of the Art League. It is recommended for those who still think art is dead, or those who just want to jog the right side of their brain. You know, the creative side.

Just in case you're still not convinced that art lives on, the Art League invites the public to attend one of its workshops. They offer free painting every Wednesday night, Sunday painting classes for children, and a variety of upcoming workshops including digital photography, water color, Japanese tarashikomi, and Landscape painting. More classes can be found on To contact via phone, call 239-772-5657 or email



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