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Bonita & Estero Magazine

Arts Make Their Mark in Bonita: All Ages Benefit From Community-wide Success of CFABS

The arts in Bonita Springs? Sounds like a very short story. For just how much visual and performing arts can there be between Naples and Fort Myers? Actually, more than you may think. Bonita is no longer a mere “wide spot” on that north-south road, and its arts offerings are impressive.

Under the auspices of a single organization—Centers for the Arts Bonita Springs, or CFABS—there is so much going on, especially in peak season, that CFABS disseminates the info in several ways. These include a newsletter issued monthly in winter, an annual listing of live in-season performances, its website ( and email alerts for members and ticketholders.

CFABS’ two campuses offer opportunities to learn about and make all kinds of artwork, and to enjoy or produce a variety of music, dance, theater and film. Both campuses feature fully equipped workshop and classroom space. There is even a computer room for children to make and edit their own short movies, which are shown to the public and are also entered into competition for prizes.

The Center for the Visual Arts on Old 41 Road was built from scratch in the year 2000. The Center for the Performing Arts was purchased from a church that emphasized big-stage presentations—an ideal fit for CFABS—in 2014, and has two theaters seating up to 200 and 400 people, respectively.

The synergy between the two campuses was evident, for example, in last December’s issue of Arts Centers News. It listed upcoming arts festivals and a film festival, adult and youth improvisational comedy shows, holiday and folk music concerts, a combined symphony and jazz concert, art exhibitions, a foreign film series and a lunch-and-lecture series on—what else—art. 

Also listed were master workshops on drawing and painting, and mini-workshops on glass, jewelry and mosaics, to name just a few. Multi-week workshops included calligraphy, beading, painting, photography, poetry, pottery, sculpture, musical instruments and singing, and theater and film. And don’t forget the children and their “Holiday Fun Camps,” which were laden with artistic pursuits.

The annual price tag for all of that? A modest $2.4 million.

As a leading authority on the region’s arts scene puts it: “For depth as well as breadth, the Centers for the Arts Bonita Springs is in first place. Its performing arts series spans everything from drama to music to improv, and its visual arts classes for all age groups never stop. Add in the exhibitions … plus its annual film festival, and you have a one-stop arts source for the entire area.’’ 

So says Harriet Heithaus, longtime writer and editor for Naples Daily News. And while CFABS is big, it has not outgrown homey touches, such as inviting patrons of films and shows to reserve shaded outdoor tables for brown bag lunches and dinners.

Also, for a community with many retirees, CFABS is passionate about youth. Its website notes: “As part of our mission and service to our communities’ residents we provide programming to over 15,000 at-risk youth annually. Last year we awarded over $100,000 in scholarships. … Artist volunteers and staff visit middle and elementary schools with free hour-long education programs. Over 4,700 students participate.’’

Young people are able to participate in “Saturday Activity Days” for the whole family, and there are community theater opportunities, classes and recitals in ballet, modern, jazz and lyrical dance, juried art exhibitions, summer camps and mentor programs. 

The website adds: “At-risk students are recommended by parents or faculty, administrators or counselors … Things That Fly, Eager Engineers, Global Explorers and Earth Explorers creatively link various academic curriculum components with fine arts, helping at-risk students struggling in their academic environment.’’ 

Even more remarkable is that all of the above is achieved by a dedicated cadre of only 21 employees, augmented by more than 2,100 volunteers, which is roughly the same number as dues-paying members. It is common for staff to do double duty as administrators and teachers, as well as work daytime hours and return for evening and weekend events.

CFABS chairman Herm Kissiah says the centers “play an important role in bringing together all segments of our community. We design our programs and classes to appeal to children and adults, experienced artists and those who just wish to try something different. I continue to be deeply affected when I see people engaged in creating something new and different that they did not think they could ever do.’’

Membership fees—and donations—are crucial to keep CFABS’ efforts going and growing. Annual dues start at $25 for students, $80 for individuals and $110 for families. (More info? Call 239-495-8989 or email [email protected]

Looking ahead, CFABS president Susan Bridges enthuses about some events from a “long wish list for progress.” Included is an inaugural light festival at venues across the community in November and December. It is hoped that the festival will be an annual event. Also on the list is a culinary arts program with permanent facilities for classes for children and adults. The possibilities are delicious.

Written by Jeff Lytle, the retired editorial page editor and TV host for Naples Daily News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.