Just as I was finishing this look back at 2012, local fundraising organization United Arts of Central Florida issued their year-end financial report, and it was not good news. United Arts missed their fundraising goal for the first time in a decade; local and state governments continue to cut support, and individual giving is even lower than government funding. Pretty dire stuff.
And yet we experienced a remarkable flowering of homegrown excitement this year. I saw amazing exhibitions and performances, and watched as established institutions grew and changed and new groups sprouted up. Orlando artists may be having trouble paying the bills, but they're hardly bankrupt of ideas. Maybe financial crisis spurs cultural growth; as budgets got pinched, creativity surged. Here, then, a not-nearly-comprehensive sampler of cultural moments I feel lucky to have witnessed in 2012.
Walk On By (Sept. 5) was the first production of the Corridor Project, a "contemporary art museum with no fixed location" dreamed up by Urban ReThink's Pat Greene. The show was inspired by the Burt Bacharach song of the same name, an ode to the defiance of the invisible and heartbroken – and the Mills 50-centered pop-up exhibition of dance, music, painting, performance and sculpture was certainly defiant, proving that artists don't always need a museum with four walls and a roof. Some of the work is still documented at thecorridorproject.com, but really it was best experienced in situ.
And speaking of the Corridor Project, I still can't forget their Pre-Deerhoof Show (Nov. 9). The nighttime performance co-presented with Tiny Waves, Voci Dance and Shine Shed Collective as part of the Accidental Music Festival was a strange and exquisite mashup of sound installation, dance and puppetry. As antlered dancers wove and stomped among papier-mâché tree trunks, bird kites swooped under the stars and the sodium streetlights of the Plaza parking lot, and artist Hannah Miller staged a tiny mirror performance with two shivery ghost-deer puppets in the moss-draped back of a van. It was a magical lead-in to the Deerhoof show it preceded.
While we're talking about Accidental Music Festival, Michelle Schumann's Nov. 10 recital in honor of the 100th anniversary of John Cage's birth enraptured a roomful of people who thought they were too tired to hear any more new music. The fifth show of the festival (and the third one of that day) delivered glee to the Timucua White House, as Schumann performed Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, a piece of which no comparably effervescent recording exists. In other words, if you missed it, you missed it – you can't just download it.
The Creative City Project (Oct. 1-31; creativecityproject.com) built on the multidisciplinary, site-specific spirit of the Corridor Project. (They were spontaneously conceived in parallel, which confirms my belief that Orlandoans are finally thinking over, under and around artistic barriers, instead of being stopped by them.) But Cole Nesmith's vision of Orlando as a creative city in which a different concert, dance performance or sculpture installation unfolded every day had more institutional support, in the form of Orange County Cultural Affairs director Terry Olson. It was less revolutionary but possibly more sustainable; Olson has said he aims to accomplish 365 days of creativity instead of "just" 31 next time.
The Mennello Museum of American Art went big in March with the opening of their exhibition Imprints: 20 Years of Flying Horse Editions. The wide-ranging show, co-curated by current FHE director Theo Lotz, celebrated the history of UCF's fine-art print studio with displays of 2-D and 3-D prints, objects and multiple editions; Flying Horse even lent their massive Vandercook press to the museum for workshops and general gawking-at.
Speaking of Flying Horse Editions, the press stepped up their profile-raising campaign in 2012 with their every-so-often Letterpress Happy Hours, creative drinks parties staged in the FHE workshop at the downtown UCF Center for Emerging Media at which patrons could set type, roll ink and press their own cards. Molecular-gastronomy cocktails and the chance to juggle lead? Yes, please.
The glittery juggernaut that is Snap! Orlando grew again in 2012, with multiple party/exhibition venues, an improved large-scale video projection on the historic Kress Building (still mind-boggling fun, though somewhat awkwardly staged April 16, almost three weeks before the May 10-12 festival) and a starry lineup of international photographers. Even better, many of the artists gave freely of their time this year, presenting a full day of lectures at OMA and another full day of workshops at the Orange Studio. My fingers are crossed for 2013 to add daytime viewing hours for those of us who want to focus on the art, not air-kisses and outfits. (Those are good too! But sometimes you just want quiet, unobstructed access to the pictures.)
On a more equal-access tip, several cellphone-centric shows democratized art photography. AIGA's March 8 Depixtions and Spacebar's four installments of Never Not Lurking (not to mention Snap!'s own Instant Snapification contest) jumped on the popularity of those ephemeral digital images, granting permanence to the mobile captures of Orlando's Instagrammers and Hipstamaticians with bona fide prints-on-the-wall gallery shows. With this month's Instagram TOS flop, though, who knows whether we'll see this many smartphone pics at once ever again?
One more music entry: I can't let 2012 leave the stage without mentioning Urban ReThink's presentation of Terry Riley's seminal Minimal composition "In C" (June 3). Organized by budding impresario Chris Belt and performed by a dozen local musos including Belt, Thad Anderson, Beatriz Ramirez, Brian Smithers, Kevin Stever, Karlos Kolon and Matt McCarthy, the performance was a mesmerizing, invigorating injection of pure joy.
Memorable, but not admirable: Maitland's Art & History Museums (the mildly controversial organization now overseeing the Maitland Art Center et al.) faced a struggle for existence this summer, when Maitland city commissioner Phil Bonus went straight Looney Tunes and targeted them for extinction. His escalating criticism of the nonprofit org culminated in a July proposal to terminate their lease. His rationale? Maitland was not seeing any return on its investment. (In 2010, Bonus went after the Maitland Public Library, calling it a "poor value": "Despite adequate market indicators, I believe the Library is lethargic.") Whether or not they approved of the museum complex's new regime, Maitlanders rose up to pooh-pooh the idea that their cultural landmarks should be profit centers. In a schadenfreude-rich coda, Bonus resigned from City Council in October after being charged with DUI and admitting to being a customer at an East Orlando brothel.
This was the year of the revolving door for local arts leaders, with new principals in place at United Arts (exit Margot Knight in 2011; enter Flora Maria Garcia, May 29), Rollins College's Cornell Fine Arts Museum (excellent curator Jonathan Walz remains, but a new museum director, Ena Heller, was appointed June 27) and Orlando Museum of Art, whose longtime director, Marena Grant Morrisey, announced her retirement at the end of 2012 – I look forward to seeing what her replacement, artist and arts administrator Glen Gentele, will bring. And Orlando Ballet finally filled its top administrative spot in April, only to see exec director Mark Hough depart four months later, leaving artistic director Robert Hill to once again shoulder the load. Without change, there is no growth – so Orlando definitely deserves to expect great things in 2013.