Artis—Naples protest decries COVID-19 mandates, but for small audience – Naples Daily News

Between 35 and 40 protesters showed up to condemn new COVID-19 protocols at Artis— Naples and to try to convince a Friday night concert audience to ask for its money back. 

They didn’t have much audience to persuade. The Naples Philharmonic event, “Music of Baseball,” was a one-off concert in the shoulder season, with a program that was announced only 10 days before the show. The adjacent Wells Fargo lot that fills up for Masterworks concerts and Broadway shows was not even a quarter filled by 7:45 p.m. 

The protest, sponsored by the group Conservative Christians of Southwest Florida, had largely political and philosophical overtones. Carrying signs that declared “Forced Injections=Marxism” and “Medical apartheid is here,” the crowd listened to a member with a bullhorn mimicking a German Gestapo order to get tested or vaccinated.

About 40 protesters showed up Friday evening outside Artis—Naples.

The comparison to Nazi Germany of World War II was a recurring theme: “Artis—Naples, show papers. Mach Schnell (make it fast)!” read one.

Several times “Florida for Trump” and “Latinos for Trump” banners were waved at passing traffic on Pelican Bay Boulevard.

Ariel Martinez, of Cape Coral, the organizer behind the protest, acknowledged the protest was primarily philosophically based. Martinez, president of the Lee County chapter of Conservative Christians of Southwest Florida, said he was asked to work with the Collier County event because of his previous success organizing Cubans for Trump in Miami. 

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Religious and medical freedom were part of it, he said, but personal freedom was “primarily and foremost” behind the protest.

“I’m Cuban-born. I’ve been in this country since the age of 5, and the transformation I’ve seen since COVID is, honestly, a very frightful thing,” he said. “I can understand certain people’s apprehension in wanting to take care of themselves, and I respect that.

“I say, let’s apply common sense to the situation and let’s have policies that make sense,” Martinez said. 

“I go in, take the swab, shake hands with someone who’s just rubbed their nose. I don’t know if they have COVID. What good is that test? I walk in with COVID and I still pose the same risk, the same problem.

“So this is not a problem of wanting to protect people. This is a problem of just wanting to go along with a mandate that honestly infringes on personal freedoms and is destroying our God-given rights.”

He did not address an alternative solution to the dilemma of spreading or being infected with COVID-19 in an enclosed space.

The Artis—Naples COVID-19 policy requires a professionally administered test within a set amount of time for admission to its halls and museum. It does not require vaccination and will not request it, but visitors can offer proof of vaccination, with ID, and be admitted.

That allows it to comply with a new Florida law advocated by Gov. Ron DeSantis that penalizes businesses requiring proof of vaccinations from patrons. The entire policy is on its website at artisnaples.org

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Protesters were restricted to the public curb outside Artis—Naples on Friday.

“Personally, I’m not in favor of masks and being vaccinated to go to frequent (events), especially when it’s available to the public. So we believe everybody should have a free choice,” said Ken Esquilan of Bonita Springs. “And we’re here to exercise that free choice by sharing that it’s our right to protest when we feel infringed upon.”

His wife, Celia, said she had come to the U.S. from Cuba: “We had mandates,” she said, although she said none of them had been medical. “You have to do what they say, not what you say. It’s tyranny — communism — because you have to follow their rules.”

“The government fails to do it, so they use enterprise to basically push it on the people. And that’s basically corporate communism,” her husband added.

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There was no statement from Artis—Naples Friday, but a representative offered its statement from earlier in the week:

“Our commitment to the collective health and safety of our patrons, visitors, musicians, guest artists, staff and volunteers is paramount. The decision to update our protocols was not taken lightly. It is our sincere hope that the new protocols will encourage increased participation and safety in all of our activities. 

“We are pleased to join many of Florida’s largest arts organizations who have implemented these protocols over the last month. They include the Arsht Center, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Norton Museum of Art, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Straz Center for the Performing Arts.”

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.

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