Xavier Brignoni is a wellknown force in the Lee County art scene. He’s aided in the River District’s artistic revival as cofounder of the monthly Fort Myers Art Walk, and given lesserknown artists a leg-up with his involvement in The Union Artist Studios and DAAS CO-OP Art Gallery & Gifts.

But 16 years ago, Brignoni was a transplant from Puerto Rico with no connection to the area. He quietly produced mixed-media art in his “little apartment,” optimistic about one day breaking into the Southwest Florida scene himself. At the time, the community Brignoni sought to be a part of lacked foundation—there were few places for artists to meet and show their work.

But when he took his first stroll through downtown Fort Myers, he saw potential in the nearly blank canvas that is was. After meeting Claudia Goode, curator of the Arts for ACT Gallery (one of the few downtown galleries in the early 2000s), Brignoni learned of other creatives who shared his same visions for the area. With their collective planning, Art Walk launched in 2008.

“The reason we [created Art Walk] is because a place that doesn’t have art and doesn’t show the freedom of art is basically a dead place. It’s a place without identity,” Brignoni says. Plus, there were too many people with unique stories to share to go unnoticed. “The good thing about art—and thanks to the creation of Art Walk—is you can see the different faces and the different influences of all kinds of people, from locals to people of other ethnicities and beliefs,” Brignoni says.

Today, Brignoni promotes the arts with classes and workshops at The Union Artist Studios, which he cofounded in 2012, and through his latest project, DAAS CO-OP, which he launched with fellow artist David Acevedo last year. The cooperative gallery consists of nearly 30 seasoned and up-and-coming artists (many hailing from different countries, Brignoni notes), who promote and sell their pieces at the studio. DAAS CO-OP and The Union Artist Studios also participate in the newly launched SoCo Second Saturday event, which begins south of Colonial Boulevard on the second Saturday of every month, and centers on arts and culture.

Brignoni, who is a social worker by day, says he finds joy in being able to give people of all backgrounds an opportunity to be seen, heard and understood. “What I’m really looking forward to with my time in this world and in Lee County is basically showing other people to not let fear stop them from being who they are and to embrace differences,” Brignoni says. “Being able to connect with other people that are different is what makes us stronger.”