As I type these words, it is 91 degrees Fahrenheit outside, with 60 percent humidity and a 30 percent chance of rain, making it feel like 111 degrees (aka "Africa hot"). It will still feel like 85 degrees at midnight. So the idea of doing anything outdoors on un-air-conditioned asphalt is probably pretty unappealing at the moment. But cast your mind forward to the cooler months to come, and imagine downtown Orlando coming alive with art installations, performing artists, even high-flying acrobats – all in the heart of the city, and all free to the public. That's the dream of not one but two important art events coming to town this fall, and there are still opportunities for you to be involved.
On July 9, the Gallery at Avalon Island hosted an informational meeting about the 2015 Creative City Project led by founder Cole NeSmith and artist liaison Holly Harris. Creative City Project began in October 2012 as an effort to present a free art event downtown every day during the month of October. The following year, they wisely chose to (in NeSmith's words) "take all that momentum and all those arts organizations and smash them down to one night and blow it out of the water." The results were well-received, and amplified in the third edition on Nov. 1, 2014. This year's event is scheduled for 5-11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, and will again feature performances by the Orlando Ballet, Central Florida Community Arts Orchestra and Cirque du Soleil.
This is no minor sidewalk fair; while the permitting process is still in progress, plans call for Orange Avenue to be closed from the CityArts Factory all the way south to the Dr. Phillips Center lawn, with events also stretching along Pine and Church streets. Look for stages to be installed at the Chase and SunTrust plazas, plus risers placed along Orange so patrons can walk among the musicians while the CFCArts Orchestra plays. There's even talk of a thousand-piece marching band made up of Orange County school students – take that, Professor Harold Hill!
But don't think you need a big-name troupe, or even a single collaborator, to share your art through the Creative City Project. Individual artists and companies of any size are invited to fill out an application at creativecityproject.com/artist any time before the Aug. 15 deadline; you'll be notified if you are accepted by the end of August. Best of all, stipends of up to $250 are available to selected artists. Last year they returned $7,000 to artists, on a total budget of about $60,000; this year they hope to have $80,000 in funding, thanks to sponsorships from media companies. (The project doesn't currently receive United Arts funding, but they are hoping for a grant in 2016.)
NeSmith says his objectives in this effort to "create meaningful shared experiences in the public space" include "cultivating a thriving arts community" by supporting emerging and independent artists; "nurturing a deeper sense of ownership and care of Orlando amongst its residents"; and "shaping the global perception of our city as one known for innovation and creativity." Lofty goals indeed, but if anyone can motivate a critical mass of people to make it happen, it just might be NeSmith, whose powerful gift for eloquent rhetoric resonates whether he's preaching the importance of public art or pastoring at City Beautiful Church.
A month before the Creative City Project, an Orlando edition of Art in Odd Places will make a similar attempt to engage the public with artists, but with a very different angle. A 15-year-old worldwide phenomenon founded by New Yorker Ed Woodham, AIOP appears in a different city each year (along with an annual New York festival) – previous editions have transpired in St. Petersburg, Russia; Sydney, Australia; and Los Angeles. Orlando's AIOP debuts Sept. 17-20 along Magnolia Avenue. A curatorial team of local artists (full disclosure – my wife is one) selected 50 projects inspired by the theme "Tone" from the hundred-plus submitted, which run the gamut from dance and sculpture to group knitting and an outdoor reading library. Though both events are sponsored by the Downtown Arts District, the streets will remain open during AIOP, forcing artists to find ways to integrate their work with the everyday flow; the only stipulation is that they must use a site that isn't a traditional performance space.
However the events actually turn out – and sadly, I won't even be on this continent during AIOP – I give a standing ovation to anyone with ambition to engage the public in the streets ... or at least I would, if it weren't too hot to move. In my dreams, downtown Orlando will someday see art on the streets every day (like other big cities with busking cultures) instead of just on a select few, but we've got to start somewhere.