When Disney shut down its Pleasure Island nightclub complex (as reported in Live Active Cultures, Sept. 25), I privately planned a personal protest. "Boycott," I said silently to myself, swearing to deny the Downtown Disney district my patronage. If the Rat was going to raze the Adventurers Club without remorse, then I would spend my time and money elsewhere.
Well, that didn't last long. My ineffectual embargo evaporated in the face of two events. The first was the 33rd edition of the Festival of the Masters, Disney's annual outdoor art show. Think of an even more commercialized Winter Park Art Festival — with better parking. I've attended the festival nearly every year since I've moved here, and the thought of skipping it out of spite was depressingly self-defeating.
The second inciting incident was the Nov. 4 presidential election. In an evening of memorable moments (Republican pundit Mike Murphy's lamentation on MSNBC that "something is going very wrong in the Orlando area" hit high on the "hallelujah" meter), I was most struck by the sincere tone of reconciliation sounded by both candidates in their concession and victory speeches. It's a new dawn, a time to move beyond past grievances and work together to build a better future. Could Downtown Disney and I dispense with our dispute in the name of postpartisan progress?
Yes we can!
Walking about the well-attended event, I enjoyed looking at the interactive opportunities offered for children, like the David Begley—Robert Ryan mural-making workshops conducted outside the Raglan Road restaurant. Unfortunately, I missed local painter-curator Anna McCambridge working on her sidewalk-chalk homage to That One, but I did find the expected absurdities that accompany anything Disney, like the impressionist asked to un-exhibit all his paintings of Cinderella's Castle and other trademarked WDW icons that he had hauled up from Miami.
But I found most of the work on display under the white tents that overtake the West Side's pedestrian walkways to be, well, pedestrian. For me, the event's epicenter is the Folk Art Festival. Despite celebrating its 10th anniversary, this portion of the event still struggles for respect. The folk artists are tucked into a narrow area along the House of Blues, and they don't rate name recognition in the printed program. Despite the diss, I feel that these creatives can demonstrate the way forward in these complex times. However you label them — self-taught, visionary, outsider — these artists share common elements that feel particularly resonant in this era of Obamerica:
Grass-roots democracy: Working outside the mainstream, artists like R.L. Lewis, an original Florida Highwayman, and celebrity-collected Brian Dowdall prove people with passion can paint, with or without academically approved technique. Their intensely personal works, often with a microcosmic relationship to their community of origin, give life to the slogan "Think globally, act locally."
Eco-awareness: Found-object artists regularly reuse, recycle and reimagine our detritus into their dreamscapes. Joel Pinkerton's teapot robots, Anthony Pack's coffee-can creatures and Kathy Eroh's bottle-cap portraits prove that the aesthetically pleasing and the ascetically nonpolluting can coexist.
Inspirational spirituality: Many folk artists focus on religious themes, but without the dogma or insipid sentimentality that stereotypes today's "Christian" art. Instead, you'll find humility and humor — even a semi-agnostic Jew can appreciate Steve Stepp's bingo-ball-dispensing savior or K.C. Bennett's crucifixes.
No artist sums up the folk art spirit better than "Missionary" Mary L. Proctor, a fixture (along with her husband) at the festival. I always anticipate what this nationally acclaimed artist has to show and say. This year she displayed a piece from her Grandma's Blue Plates series, which hangs in Baltimore's wonderful American Visionary Art Museum (Live Active Cultures, Sept. 4). Alongside her latest obsessions, there were discarded dolls (largely late-'90s wrestlers) mounted with self-affirming sayings and playfully Pollock-esque paint drippings on canvases originally intended for floor protection. Her art opens a door to a world of warmth, wisdom and willing acceptance of simple joy. (Let's hope that by next year's festival, Barack will put enough change back in my pockets to purchase something from her.)firstname.lastname@example.org