Earlier this year, I had a uniquely Southwest Florida experience. I had the rare opportunity to visit internationally renowned artist Robert Rauschenberg’s 20-acre estate, which was his home and studio for over 40 years. Rauschenberg is considered by many to be the most influential American artist and critical figure in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to more modern movements and he lived, played and made art right here in Southwest Florida. The artist passed away two years before I moved to Florida in 2010, but his art and his belief that “Art Can Change the World” remains strong in our community.
Rauschenberg was committed to social change and his legacy continues through his foundation and his artwork – both of which encourage the exchange of ideas. He believed in the exceptional ability of art to transform the world, and I’m told that we would have gotten along quite well if our paths had crossed. Without knowing him, I see how he’s touched and grown our little piece of the world and am grateful for his commitment to arts, culture and preservation.
Rauschenberg’s estate grew not because he wanted for more material, but rather he strived to protect the natural landscape and environment of Captiva. He purchased properties surrounding his home in order to protect against encroaching development and he was successful in protecting the environment and history of the area. Individuals like Rauschenberg were essential in fighting to protect the uniqueness of Florida’s natural coastal landscape.
The estate is now host to an interdisciplinary artists’ residency program that facilitates experimentation and innovation.The residency brings together artists from all over the world to make art, to experiment and to connect to each other and gain inspiration from the natural surroundings. All of this reminds us of how BIG Rauschenberg lived and how sorely he is missed.
While it is rare to have the chance to tour this astonishing location, it isn’t impossible. The estate freely can be seen by boat and, every now and again, they open it up to public tours. It was my good fortune to have been on an Alliance for the Arts organized tour with artists, arts patrons and cultural supporters. It was an experience I will treasure and one that will remind me every day the importance of artists and cultural institutions. So while you may come for the beaches, I’d encourage you to stay for the arts. There’s so many unique arts treasures and cultural opportunities in Southwest Florida.
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