To the editor:
Remember the letter a few weeks ago in the Beach Observer wishing the fellow, Ronn James, luck opening a "Fruit Stand and Performing Arts Dinner Theater" in the old Church just over the Bridge?
Well, a sign appeared about a week or two after that letter and a supporting article in another local newspaper. The sign said, "Old Mission Playhouse and Produce Market," but it is gone now without ever producing a single show, and the Church has reverted back to its former stature as a vacant and forlorn building.
The letter writer did more than just wish the wanna-be Arts promoter good luck, she also warned about the innumerable zoning laws that would prevent him from ever getting off the ground. I know about this because I funded the Purple Heart Theater and produced over a hundred quality events on Estero Island for a period of about 10 years.
Right to this day I receive calls and inquiries as to why there is no blues festival or Grammy-winning artists coming to the Beach or regular arts programming. While there are many factors to cite for this lack, the most outstanding one is quite simple. Our society is increasingly difficult for start-ups and it is designed to discourage private arts development while encouraging public sector art.
There was a segment on television last week entitled, "Illegal Everything," and it showed little girls and boys facing the wrath of zoning and rules over lemonade stands! If they are targeted and shut down, get a vision of what others face. I remember that Mark List, in his capacity as a "promoter" of the arts was cited in a recent newspaper article as saying his group, the Beach Arts Cooperative, was going to put in "sweat equity" to help James get going. Unfortunately, they never got the chance.
It takes a huge commitment to produce anything these days and some real wrangling to get past the voluminous rules and regulations necessary to even open a new door. This has not only hurt the entrepreneurial spirit that made our country great, it has also reduced the number of jobs that could be created in these enterprises for locals to work. In the instant case it has reduced the number and quality of available performances for our locals. While I decry these developments, like in all things the pendulum will one day swing back the other way. But it may be too late for many alive today to witness.
Fort Myers Beach
Conley was the founder of the Island Arts Foundation and served on the Board of the Lee County Alliance for the Arts.