Festival season is upon us in Southwest Florida, saturating the local landscape in style.

For two days at a time, art festivals pop up, inviting the community to appreciate and explore through multiple mediums. They offer an escape from the ordinary and a foray into the art world, without the pretentiousness of visiting a gallery. “At an art festival, you can walk up and meet the artist who created the work and feel very comfortable,” says Barry Witt, longtime organizer of the Bonita Springs National Art Festivals. “It’s a good experience. You start with an empty park or street, and for two days, it becomes a major, major event. If you come back on Monday, it’s gone.”

National and international talent floods the scene, along with local artists who earn their place at the top of the art arena. Estero artist Robert Heier will showcase his unique style of photography at the Coconut Point Art Festival and the Naples National Art Festival this month, along with the Bonita Springs National Art Festival in March. He calls his style “fauxtography” because the end product is barely recognizable as a photograph. Many visitors to his booth seem mesmerized, wondering exactly what they are looking at, he says. The original, romantic images from Europe and around the world become edgy and contemporary, bursting with highly saturated color to create a piece of modern art.

“I take the original image and blow it to smithereens and then put it back together,” Heier explains. “It’s a very soulful thing. It’s uplifting when you get something that you think is beautiful.” Heier’s work has been featured in publications, galleries and art shows across the globe, as well as lining the walls of the Embassy Suites Hotel of Kennesaw, Ga. He once kept a pace of about 20 shows a year, so he knows what he’s talking about when he says the Bonita Springs National Art Festival ranks among the best in the nation.

“The first year I went to the show, my jaw dropped,” Heier says. “It was an amazing show. I’ve never seen some of the stuff Barry has in that show. I’m very honored to be a part of that cadre of folks.” This month’s festival marks the 30th national juried art show in Bonita Springs. “We’ve always focused on the highest quality we can get,” Witt says. “We are the original festival. We’re the festival that made the others come to town.”

The three Bonita Springs festivals are expected to bring in more than $100,000 for the Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs, with a new venue at Riverside Park. Anne Delacroix is another Estero artist who will be participating in the March show. She also did the Estero Fine Art Show at Miromar Outlets in January. Delacroix uses recycled natural materials to create whimsical, aquatic art. “I make fish wall art out of palm seed pods, fronds, palmetto leaves and all kinds of weird stuff I find,” she explains.

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