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Arts Upsurge in ‘Bohemian’ Bonita

Six months in as its appointee, Alyona Ushe steers Arts Bonita in new directions

by Kathy Grey

It was an exhaustive search prompted by the retirement of longtime Centers for the Arts Bonita Springs President and CEO, Susan Bridges.

“I am in awe of what Susan accomplished,” says the arts organization’s chosen executive director, Alyona Ushe, who, for six months, has been at the helm of what’s now named Arts Bonita.

Indeed, her predecessor’s accomplishments were vast. In her 23 years of leadership, Bridges took the arts organization from its modest 1999 roots to a two-campus, sought-after nonprofit offering events, scholarships, fine art, music and theater classes.

Ushe clearly had big shoes to fill, but the opportunity to lead Arts Bonita fulfilled her decades-long commitment to arts leadership.

Here, Now and Wow

She’s living the dream of “building a team and working with staff and phenomenal people to see we have the same vision and are working in same direction.” As Steve Jobs said, “We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do.” That is Ushe’s philosophy, too.

“I’m so grateful that our board supports our ‘bohemian’ vision, supporting our local artists and incredible talent we have. It’s unlike any other.”

She describes working with the city, “getting everyone to understand we are here for them, not the other way around.”


Ushe with two-time Grammy Award winner  Marlow Rosado and Alyona Ushe at Arts Bonita conce

Ushe with two-time Grammy Award winner Marlow Rosado at Arts Bonita concert with Tito Puente, Jr.

The arts in Bonita Springs have their own extraordinary flavor, with an immersive, inclusive culture. Ushe is grateful for the foundation laid before her and seeks to “find out what we are missing — and doing something we haven’t done before.”

She envisions this as education for adults and kids, becoming something of an arts school to build on artists’ talents and to help participants grow as experts in their discipline(s) of choice.

Beyond excellence in fine and performing arts, Ushe’s vision requires that Arts Bonita programs be built on compassion and empathy to “quiet the ‘monkey mind’” with creativity, yoga, breathing, conservation and other holistic life approaches “to empower our stakeholders to be the best they can be.”

“I’m in a unique position of being new, and the board is hungry for new vision and expansion, working with me and our people working on the ground. I’m extremely excited and blessed. I know I am. It’s amazing to have a board of directors who understand my ‘crazy ideas,’” she says, as she, the directors and the all-creative staff, remain cognizant of where “all the dollars go as we continue dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s.”

Tito Puentis Jr. performed at Arts Bonita -  November 2023._WEB.jpg

Tito Puentis Jr. at the Arts Bonita concert in November 2023.

Alyona Ushe-Executive Director-photo by Grace Molina_WEB.jpg

Alyona Ushe

The strategic plan is very much in the works, she says, noting that the city of Bonita Springs is in the midst of a cultural transformation. “And so, we are taking our time and make sure we get it right.”


“Bohemian” is a word that trips off her tongue, meaning “unconventional in an artistic way.” And Ushe is an ardent believer in creative risk taking.

How It Began

She saw an ad for the position she holds and applied in early fall 2022. As it was a national search, the position was reposted, garnering a hundred or so candidates. Finally, the offer came through at the end of April this year, but not before she had numerous interviews.

Meanwhile, she crossed Alligator Alley on her own time to experience two Bonita Arts concerts and two festivals.

“The more I saw, the more I wanted the job. The artwork was phenomenal. The performing arts concert was packed. There was such tremendous energy.”

She has led organizations in Palm Beach County; Arlington, Virginia (now “exploding with the arts,” she notes); and other worthy artistic opportunities. To make it worthwhile, each had the potential of becoming a “major economic development force that also enhances the quality of life in the community.”

Ushe’s mother was a famous stage actor in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia, where her father moonlighted as a tour guide in museums and the visual arts. Her family came to the states when she was 11, and she had visions of becoming a lawyer. But the arts are clearly in her DNA, so her entire professional career has been dedicated to cultural expression.

Now that she’s here, the self-proclaimed “mermaid” is drawn to Southwest Florida’s abundant beaches, tennis, golf, hot yoga and all things that nurture the soul.

ArtsBonita offers programs that meet the needs of children and adults alike._WEB.jpg

ArtsBonita offers programs that meet the needs of children and adults alike.

A seasoned world traveler, she plans to travel more, meeting the “beautiful people” the world has to offer. And that includes Southwest Floridians.

“I try to understand where people are coming from and why, to treat people the way they want to be treated. It’s about empathy, love, growth and contributing to the people you are with.” And, she adds, “It’s about making things happen.”

Arts Bonita has a dream team, she says, that is equally committed to making things happen.

As board chairman Fred Weinman announced when Ushe was appointed executive director of Arts Bonita, “[She will] lead the Centers for the Arts in our commitment to enrich the lives of the community by providing opportunities for artistic expression, education and appreciation for all… The future is bright!”

Coming Up at Arts Bonita


Parent & Toddler Takes: Nurturing Bonds Through Storytelling

Jan. 19-March 8

Instructor: Jessica Walck

Story: Where the Wild Things Are

The Parent-Toddler Tales class fosters parent-child bonds through imaginative stories, interactive activities and language development in a nurturing environment.

Tuition: $160 Non-Member/$136 Member


Other Stories worked on in class

Broadway Beginners (Ages 4-6) – We Will Rock Our Classmates

Showstoppers (Ages 7-9) – Junie B. Jones

Rising Stars (Ages 10-13) – Moana


Musical theater classes expand performance skills through exercises in technique and storytelling with emphasis on voice and movement. Students work together on scenes, choreographed dances, singing and improv, building their confidence in themselves and in their craft.


Exploring the Artist’s Way

Thursdays, Jan. 11-April 4 (No Class March 14)

Instructor: Jodie Fox

This inspiring and dynamic course helps individuals discover and develop their creativity. Covering topics such as finding your artistic voice, overcoming creative blocks and experimenting with various artistic mediums, this class combines practical activities, group discussions and mindfulness exercises.

Tuition: $300 Non-Member/$255 Member


Adult Acting: Scene Study

Wednesdays, Jan. 17-March 6

Instructor: Jessica Walck

This is an active scene study course that will help actors find the truth in their acting, learn how to trust their gut, and make informed and motivated choices.

Tuition: $300 Non-Member/$255 Member


Improv for Actors: The Art of Letting Go and Taking Risks

Mondays, Jan. 29-March 4

Instructor: Kit FitzSimons

This class is perfect for actors, beginners to seasoned pros who want to: shed inhibitions, trust instincts, boost confidence, embrace failure, master collaboration, create vivid characters and explore various improv styles.

Tuition: $180 Non-Member/$153 Member

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Arts Upsurge in ‘Bohemian’ Bonita


On Being Artistic

Finding your motivations and your medium(s)

by Beverly Fox

Are you born with talent, or are you one who thinks you don’t have a creative bone in your body?  Growing up, I was definitely the latter.

Now, after 40 years of creating, I am president of an art gallery; I teach silversmithing classes (beginners to advanced) every week; and I’m in my studio creating new and exciting pieces.

Midway through my life’s journey, working a corporate job, I wanted to advance within my company, and the only way was to get a degree. It didn’t matter what it was in. So I went to the local art college part-time, still working full-time and traveling for my job. I had no idea where this art education would lead me, but I always loved crafting.

The moment I touched metal, I knew this would be my future. During those years, I dreamed about retirement and having more time for creating, but that would be far in my future. Since I was hooked on making silver jewelry, I began buying tools, equipment, stones and metal. I really had no plan, but I knew I wanted to continue to learn, create and work.


That’s how a lot of people start being artistic. If you’re wanting to explore your artistic side, consider these tips.


1. Think about what you want to get out of it.

When you consider creating artwork, think about what you want to get out of it. Is it the joy of creating and personal satisfaction? Is it money or being around like-minded people?

2. Explore what inspires you.

It took me a while to figure out what my inspirations were. I love fossils, pretty and rare stones and texture. I usually begin my designing with these. I have been told that my works are like little sculptures.


3. Consider what medium works best for you.

I have met many people who love to create in a certain medium, and they love what they do. But some folks get to a point where they have explored as far as they feel they can go with their ideas and decide to switch mediums. Maybe they just aren’t having fun anymore.


I meet these artists often in my classes. I also have students that have not created before but are ready to begin. Working in precious metal has an allure all its own. Many people think it will be easy until they realize what a slow process it really is. The devil is in the details.

4. Look into taking a class.

Taking classes is a good way to find out if an art form is for you. Most towns have art centers. Art societies or associations have many opportunities to take stimulating classes.

For beginners, project-driven classes are appealing because after practicing a bit, they want to learn more. After learning the basics, your style will emerge: traditional, whimsical, abstract modern, etc. Whatever your style is, it’s fun to explore it further.

5. Don’t give up.

Understand that there may be stumbling blocks. Avoidance is a natural feeling when you are presented with a challenge. People deal with this in different ways. Take a break if you need to, but don’t let your disappointments influence your creativity. Eventually, you’ll figure out how to change the piece you envisioned. We must keep learning, and this is part of that process.

The next time you pick up a paintbrush, hand tool or torch, remember you are doing what makes you happy, and it is keeping your mind engaged.

The process of creating is joyful because the end result is the satisfaction you get from having fun, knowing your next creation is just around the bend.


Beverly Fox is a jeweler, educator and entrepreneur and is the owner of Sleeping Fox Jewelry Market, based in Cape Coral. Fox has been creating silver and gold pieces since the early 1990s. She is also president and part-owner of Harbour View Gallery at Cape Harbour, Cape Coral, showcasing and selling 30 local artists' artwork in a variety of mediums. A teacher at the Cape Coral Art Center since 1999, she also teaches week-long intensive classes at William Holland School of Lapidary in Georgia.



Exhibits for Every Season

Artis—Naples’ Baker Museum now open year-round

by Kathy Grey

Across its 8.5-acre campus and in five designated buildings, Artis—Naples offers unique experiences to Southwest Florida residents and visitors.

A refreshing adjustment to its Baker Museum’s schedule is that, started in the summer of 2023: the museum is open year-round, versus being closed from late July through Labor Day. Hours follow the usual schedule: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Two evening programs in Daniels Pavilion will complement the museum’s expanded schedule, as will Art After Hours, Make-and-Take Family Workshops and docent tours.

CEO Kathleen van Bergen explains that The Baker Museum’s permanent collection has, and is, expanding, along with Southwest Florida’s increasingly diverse population.

“We also look forward to extending our multidisciplinary mission all summer long,” van Bergen said in a statement. That includes enlightening, air-conditioned performances and events. It’s worth noting that Artis—Naples offers more than 800 visual and performing arts experiences that are free to the public.

Click here to learn more about the museum’s exhibitions or explore its full website to learn about everything Artis—Naples has to offer. Below, we highlight our top three picks.

The Face of Immokalee (now through April 28)

“The Face of Immokalee” is a public art project created through a multiyear collaboration between the residents of Immokalee, Florida and Naples-based photographer Michelle Tricca. Consisting of large-format black-and-white portrait photographs of Immokalee residents of varying ages and backgrounds, the project celebrates the individuality of the members of this community best known for its agricultural contributions.

Image: Michelle Tricca (American, b. 1969). The Face of Immokalee, 2018-23. Courtesy of the artist.


George Gershwin and Modern Art
A Rhapsody in Blue (Feb. 10 through June 16)

George Gershwin is widely known and beloved for his innovative work as a composer, songwriter and pianist, but his passion and talents extended to the visual arts as well. Before his untimely death at the age of 38, he produced numerous paintings, drawings and photographs, and his collection of modern art was one of the most significant of his day. This will be the first major museum exhibition devoted to the composer’s passion for the visual arts, featuring paintings, sculptures and other artworks from Gershwin’s collection by leading modern artists; paintings, drawings and photographs created by Gershwin; works by noteworthy artists inspired by Gershwin and his music; and select ephemera and correspondence between Gershwin and members of his circle.

Image: George Gershwin painting the portrait of fellow composer Arnold Schoenberg, 1936. Photo by Gabriel Hackett/Archive Photos/Getty Images.

On Being Artistic
Exhibits for Every Season
Warhol Flowers.jpg

Andy Warhol Portfolios
A Life in Pop (April 6 through Sept. 8)

Andy Warhol is one of the central figures of the Pop art movement. He acquired fame through his work in many media, including painting, sculpture, filmmaking and publishing, but printmaking was always a central part of his art. This exhibition includes rare complete portfolios and individual prints by Warhol, starting with iconic works from the mid-1960s to the series of monoprints Vesuvius, created in 1985.

Image: Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987). Flowers, 1970. Screenprint on paper, 36 x 36 in. 28 in an edition of 250. Bank of America Collection.


Gift Ideas for Those Who Seem to Have it All

It really is the thought that counts

by Kimberly Blaker and Kathy Grey


Many of us have loved ones who appear to have everything. Still, we want to show our affection with a thoughtful gift. Even if their lives are filled with worldly trappings, these folks are as grateful as anyone to be thought of. As the adage goes, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Our No. 1 favorite suggestion is to invest in an experience, whether it be for the recipient or a joint adventure. Consider fulfilling a bucket-list item: travel the world, take a cooking class with a renowned chef, go up in a balloon, experience the Northern Lights firsthand, learn to SCUBA, take virtual Napa Valley wine tastings/cheese pairings or buy a yearlong National Parks pass to explore our natural treasures. These experiences are only limited by your imagination.

Or, this year, try one of these gift ideas that can elicit surprise and enthusiasm for your thoughtfulness.

Concert tickets. Whether the person on your list is into rock or symphony, a pair of concert tickets will be a sure pleaser, especially if you can swing the best seats.

Dinner at a posh restaurant. A gift certificate to a top-notch restaurant is a perfect way for the person on your list to enjoy a special-occasion gourmet meal.

Golf package. Give a round of golf at an elite course or a weekend away at a favorite golf resort.

Massage certificates. This luxury is sure to please. Best of all, you can find plenty of great deals for massages at

For the foodie. Consider a top-quality knife or knife set, a set of exotic spices or an appliance loaded with smart features. Better yet, plan a trip to a gourmet cooking establishment for a hands-on experience.

Sporting event tickets. Whatever your gift recipient's favorite sport, a pair of tickets, particularly to a top rival game, is sure to be a hit.

Remote car starter. With a remote starter, your recipient can heat or cool their car before stepping into uncomfortable temperatures.

Magazine subscription. Whether the person on your list is a sports fan, outdoors person, world traveler, hobbyist, professional or business owner, there’s a magazine out there for every niche.

Gadgets. A person can never have too many. How about a Bluetooth speaker or headphones, multi-device charging valet, night vision binoculars, smartphone Wi-Fi storage, espresso maker or wireless TV speakers?

Record player and LPs. Vinyl is back! Shop online for collectible vintage record players or new ones. Look for LPs at vintage record stores, antique malls or online.

Audiobook subscription. If the person on your list loves to read but just doesn't have time for it, an audio subscription may be the perfect alternative.

Music download subscription. One can never have too much music. Find subscriptions for music downloads at Amazon, Napster, iTunes, eMusic and Spotify, to name a few.


Annual nonprofit membership. Make the person on your list a card-carrying member of the National Audubon Society, Earth Policy Institute, American Humane Society or another organization that fits their interests.

A trip or weekend away. This gift could be as simple as a nearby weekend away for rest and relaxation or a week-long adventure to a favorite destination. Watch for travel deals at Travelzoo, Travelocity, Google Flights, Airfairwatchdog and Kayak.

Museum membership. Is the person on your list an art enthusiast or history buff? If so, look for museum memberships in your recipient's nearby metropolitan area. In addition to free entrance, museum memberships typically include extra perks.


èBella Readers Weigh In

We reached out to our readers and friends and compiled this list of helpful and sometimes unexpected ideas for honoring people you care about, whatever the occasion. Below are some readers’ ideas that inspired us to inspire you.

•  I received a package from an out-of-state friend. Inside was a 1,000-piece custom puzzle she had made with pictures of me, my significant other and our two little kittens: all my favorite things. It made my heart smile that she thought of something so creative and thoughtful. ~ Crystal Anderson

•  I’m giving a handwoven throw. I picked it out this fall when I was in Maine. It is a gift that will last for many years and will remind us of our time there. ~ Janis Ehlers

•  Something homemade, like brownies in a mason jar, “bar in a jar,” tacos in a jar…  ~ Marie Gordon, Barbara Cassidy

•  A membership to something in their town: flower gardens, art museum … something they can do throughout the year. I’ve heard these have been the greatest gifts they’ve ever received. ~ Renee Gipson

•  Lottery tickets. Why not? ~ Patty Krupp

•   A unique experience. Tickets to a show or concert, a painting or pottery class, a gift certificate for kayaking, boating excursion, horseback riding or goat yoga ~ Rachel Revehl

•   Homemade cookies made by your family for their family ~ Jane Dickinson

•  L. A. Burdick chocolate mice (or penguins) ~ Marilyn Romanowski

•  Create a basket of beautiful produce ~ James Robinson

•  Bonsai kit. It cultivates mindfulness and empathy ~ Beth Preddy

• Framed photos you have taken ~ Paul Anarumo

• Quiet lunch with undivided attention or any gift of your time doing something special ~ Leah Griffith, Carol Darr

•  A(nother) ukulele ~ Gary Peare

•  A gift in their name to a nonprofit they care about was the No. 1 favorite among our readers. ~ suggested by Dawn Montecalvo, Trish Leonard, Mary Ann Green, Jennifer Fey, Dusti Beaubien, Rachel Kutcher, Brenda Kensler and Scott Simmons

No one can place a value on a gift that lets the recipient know how much you care. That’s what we call priceless.

Gift Ideas for Those Who Seem to Have it All
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