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Music to our ears: Arts of the Inland brings culture to Lehigh ... and beyond

September 11, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The Arts of the Inland will be entertained on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. by an accomplished flutist who is with the Southwest Florida Youth Symphony, which has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City in April of next year.

The teenage girl is Megan Burkhead, a sophomore at Lehigh Senior High School. Following her performance at the Arts of the Inland program and meeting, she will be awarded a grant to attend Carnegie Hall.

The meeting of the arts group will be at ABC Framing, 12801 Commerce lakes Drive, Suite 14 in Fort Myers.

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Megan Burkhead, an accomplished flutist who is a sophomore at Lehigh Senior High School, will perform at the Arts of the Inland’s next meeting.

LaVon Koenig is president of the Arts of the Inland, also known by its acronym AOI.

Koenig is the second president of this new group that attracts those who participate in the arts of all kinds and for those who are interested in the arts. Tom Dugan was its first president and he also wrote a column for the local media. He no longer lives in the area.

For many years, people who lived east of I-75, mainly in Lehigh Acres, LaBelle, Clewiston and other areas had only Fort Myers to attend for art events which included art shows, musical and theatrical presentations.

Koenig said Arts of the Inland met for the first time on March 1 in 2011 at the Majestic Golf Club in Lehigh.

She said the popular Lehigh Community Chorus was established in 1984 which later evolved into the Lehigh Singers.

This group decided in 2010 that Lehigh and the surrounding inland areas needed a local umbrella organization that would encompass all the aspects of the art world, inclusive of not only music, but also drama, visual arts, literary arts, dance, and other creative arts, which also includes sculpturing and photography.

Inland areas include eastern Fort Myers, Lehigh, Alva, LaBelle, Muse, Immokalee, Clewiston, Moore Haven, Bay Haven and other rural areas east of I-75.

"We are a diversified group of enthusiastic people," Koenig said. She is a resident of Lehigh and lives on Lake Vista Circle.

"In the beginning, people in these areas, especially in Lehigh, had nowhere to go to participate in or see the exciting things happening in the arts world but Fort Myers.

As Lehigh Acres and other rural communities grew, it was determined that because there were large amounts of people interested in different types of the arts, that at an organization be formed to showcase local talent - and in these areas, there are a lot of people who are talented as artists, writers and others with various talents in other areas of the arts.

Thus the Lehigh Singers and its supporters worked hard to form a group for inland communities and so far, it has been a great success and membership is growing rapidly.

There had been interest in the arts such as in LaBelle where the Firehouse Theater presents up to six shows a year. And years ago in Lehigh, there was a community theater located in the Sentential Building on Homestead Rd., but was abandoned and became an office building.

"It was just a lack of exposure for the many folks in what we refer to as the inland because it meant having to drive to the coast of Southwest Florida for several events," Koenig said.

Now, the organization is involved with local presentations and the group sponsors tryouts for theatre and other shows in the area. One of the better known presentations includes sponsorships of local competition of area artists, who Koenig said are great artists in their own right and they live away from the coast.

Dues are inexpensive at $25 for one person and $35 for a pair. Membership includes people of all ages and a special emphasis is bringing students into the organization.

Meetings of the Arts of the Inland are held on the third Tuesday of each month of September to November and from January to March and May. Open to the public as well, meetings are from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Koenig as president is responsible for the From Your President's column about ongoing events and announcements for the organization.

Called the Echo Newsletter, there are often small items of interest such as in the one for August and September by June DeVincent, an award winning artist in Lehigh.

Under the topic of Artistic Meanderings, DeVincent tells members that if they have extra tubes of watercolor paint not intended for use while on vacation, to keep them in a large mason jar of water. They will not harden and will remain soft for use any time, she wrote.

The editor of the Echo is Connie Killebrew.

Members are encouraged to share their news regarding any form of the arts by emailing it to

In addition to Koenig as president, other members of the board of directors include Jere Carrick, vice president; Freida Miller, treasurer and Richard Georgian as treasurer. Members-at-large include Inke Baker, Joseph Bedoe, Joel Hawkins, Dick Kennedy and Connie Killebrew who each help out with various things such as membership to marketing. One of the things that the Arts of the Inland members are most appreciative and proud of is having a permanent gallery at Keiser University at The Forum, a residential and retail community just outside Lehigh Acres off of Colonial Blvd. It's an ongoing gallery with changes of new exhibits from time to time.

The group has worked with student interns at festival events and grants scholarships to students of the Firehouse Children's Theatre program in LaBelle. The AOI is a member of the Art Council of Southwest Florida and local chambers of commerce, including the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce.

Members are invited to submit entries to be juried for acceptance into the upcoming Spring Show sponsored by the Art Council of Southwest Florida on January 22 of next year.

Koenig also noted that the group's works are included in the Art Walks in Fort Myers.

They will participate in the Lehigh chamber's Expo on Sept. 14 at 25 Homestead Rd.

There will be a new AOI Galley Wall at Keiser University on Sept. 18. On Oct. 4, they will be part of the Art Walk of Fort Myers and have their exhibit at Market America from 6 to 10 p.m.

On Nov. 10, the group will sponsor the Perceptions Art show at the Majestic Golf Club in Lehigh. As many as 30 or more paintings are expected to be shown and judged.

A Nov. 19 meeting site will be announced. And they plan to take part in the Jan. 22, 2014 ACSWF Spring Show at von Liebig Art Center in Naples.

When the group was formed, it came with its own special logo which was drawn by Connie Killebrew of near LaBelle.

Arts of the Inland is always looking for new members, those who are interested and participants in all forms of the arts.

"We welcome new members and all they have to do is get in touch with us. Koenig can be contacted at 239-303-5849 or emailed at

And she loves for folks to "like them" on Facebook.

"Our group is growing and I see exciting things ahead for us. We are bringing the many talented people in the rural area into our organization and we are always surprised that there are really so many people out here who possess so many talents," she said.



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