Photo credit to Southwest Florida Forks.

Art, history, and botany intermingle as the FLOR500 exhibition comes to Florida Gulf Coast University this month. This statewide collaborative project dreamed up by Miami artist and Florida International University professor Xavier Cortada seeks to commemorate Florida’s quincentennial by giving a glimpse of what the landscape looked like when Juan Ponce de León landed here in 1513, naming the land “La Florida,” from the Spanish word for “flower.”

“What he has developed is an environmental art project that spans the entire state,” says Region Seven curator Mary Voytek, an associate professor of sculpture at FGCU. Five hundred Florida artists were selected, including about 60 from Southwest Florida, each choosing to depict one of 500 native wildflowers identified by a team of scientists. Historians also contributed to this massive participatory project by identifying 500 significant figures in Florida history. Each will be honored with a new wildflower garden planted to help support Florida’s biodiversity.

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The FLOR500 exhibit fits well with FGCU’s mission, which includes community partnerships and environmental sustainability, notes FGCU Art Gallery Coordinator Anica Sturdivant. The university’s 1,900-square-foot art gallery hosts up to 10 exhibits a year, including student art shows, regional artists, and national exhibitions.

This year, the art and music schools merged at FGCU, forming the Bower School of Music and the Arts, providing, even more, opportunities for creative collaboration. “We’re trying to bring the program together and incorporate performing and visual arts,” explains Joanna Hoch, Bower’s new Event Coordinator, who joined FGCU in January along with Art Gallery Director John Loscuito. He’s busy planning art shows and exhibits for 2015-16. Voytek remembers when the university’s art program consisted of one carpeted classroom in the Humanities Building. The Arts Complex opened in 2002 and now accommodates 150 art majors.

Voytek has herself created a work of hand-forged aluminum to depict the Leatherleaf Airplant in FLOR500. “Believing in the power of art and building community through collaboration,
Clockwise from left: Lauren Baker’s Coinvine; David Hatchett’s Goldenclub; Kerri Meehan’s Sweetbroom

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