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Former islanders scripting early days of BIGARTS

By Staff | May 27, 2015

Jay Halcrow (left) and Donna Kreager are putting together a history of BIGARTS in its early history. They're asking anyone with photos, memories or documents to share the information. CRAIG GARRETT

Donna Kreager’s tedious work may soon tell a deeper story.

She has spent countless hours since February examining four-decade-old newspapers, collecting yellowed magazines and photos, asking questions of those with vanishing memories, whatever small detail is available to document the genesis of the Barrier Island Group for the Arts, or BIGARTS, the cultural centerpiece of Sanibel.

Kreager will turn over her notebooks, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, photos and photo copies, interviews and ideas to Jay Halcrow, a former islander living in Englewood. She will jigsaw the information into a cogent guidebook documenting the pioneers and early days of BIGARTS. Halcrow hopes to have a draft by the end of the year.

Both women ask those with documents and memories to contact them.

The pair want modern islanders at a BIGARTS exhibit or play to appreciate the pioneers, what they’ve been gifted, the two women said.

All from humble beginnings that, oddly, started in 1978 with a proposed occupational fee by the city of Sanibel for island artists, Halcrow said. And those early artists weren’t having any of that.

“That’s what Americans do,” she said, “is to stand up and be counted.”

The women, of course, are more interested in the stories of a dozen or so artist/founders like Peter Smith, Robert Radigan and Ikki Matsumoto, others like the icon Robert Rauschenberg who wrote checks, brought celebrity, his artwork and big-city entertainment to the Barrier Island Group for the Arts. Early members met at the old Sanibel library, held potluck dinners and charged $3 tickets for events at the Sanibel Community House, “trying to figure out what we were going to doand how to make money,” said Kreager, an early member.

What evolved from their work was a vibrant hub with music events, author readings, art exhibits and films, dance, lectures and summer theater, arts and crafts, workshops and learning experiences, the women said. Future plans to develop a unified campus around BIGARTS are a direct outgrowth of the pioneers.

“It was grassroots and brought recognition to the islands,” Halcrow said. “It was very good time to be in Sanibel and Captiva.”

Mike Klein was in the circle forming the Barrier Island Group for the Arts. He was a potter upset with the proposed occupational fee.

“We liked it the way it was,” said Klein, today living at Shell Point. “And we thought we ought to form an organization. We had good timesthings were much simpler.

Once the project is complete, Kreager plans to turn her collection over to the Sanibel library.

Those interested in sharing details on BIGARTS can contact Jay Halcrow at (941) 460-6881/jayhalcrow15@comcast.net.