Last week, we took a fond look back at some of my favorite 2015 moments in Orlando arts and attractions. This week, as we await the imminent arrival of Christmas and New Year, I'm putting a bow on yet another year of Live Active Cultures by shaking up my brand-new Magic 8 Ball (thanks, Hanukkah Harry!) and peeking into the near future with some predictions, prognostications and hopeful prayers for 2016.
Security theater plays on
The recent tragic attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have stoked our fears of terrorism to a level not seen since Sept. 11, 2001, so it's no surprise that all the major attractions have enhanced their security procedures in time for the peak holiday season. As of Dec. 17, you'll find far more uniformed guards at every Orlando theme park entrance, with metal detectors scanning randomly selected guests. Parks face a fatal Catch-22: Inspecting only a small fraction of visitors doesn't ensure safety, but searching everyone would result in gridlock. Disney also banned adults in costume from their parks (including the after-hours Christmas parties) and took all toy guns – from pirate flintlocks and Han Solo blasters to soap-bubble sprayers – off their store shelves; ironically, the Buzz Lightyear claw grabbers recently confiscated by the TSA are still for sale. Whether or not the new measures actually improve security, I expect them to stick around for the foreseeable future as a symbol of the sad new world we now live in.
Last weekend's grand opening of Mango's Tropical Café was the opening shot in a series of major International Drive developments that will roll out in 2016 and beyond. Despite strenuous opposition from Universal Orlando, Skyplex and its world-record Polercoaster got a unanimous green light from county commissioners, clearing the way to break ground in the coming months. Unicorp has big plans for its complex alongside I-Drive 360's Orlando Eye, including the newly approved 450-foot Starflyer spinning swings, but some current tenants (like Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show) may not depart without a fight. And Universal's reported acquisition of more than 400 acres near the convention center could prove to be the theme park coup of the century, so don't expect the I-Drive excitement to die down any time soon.
Artists under siege
As much as we're told that Orlando's creative class is key to making our city thrive, the powers that be always seem to be looking for new ways to hem in or limit local artists. Perhaps feeling that downtown's infamous blue boxes are too liberal, Winter Park recently banned all buskers and street musicians from the sidewalks of Park Avenue, pushing them away from the trendy restaurants and into the neighboring park. And Benoit Glazer is asking patrons of the free concerts and events at his Timucua White House to fill out surveys and petitions in support of what we've called one of the area's best arts venues, so that he can expand instead of being shut down over permitting issues. Here's hoping the people's voices – and their musical instruments – will be heard loud and clear by City Hall in the coming year.
Loch Haven overloaded
Orlando is rapidly approaching the enviable yet unfortunate point where our volume of artists seeking to express themselves will outstrip the venues and performance spaces available to them, particularly in the popular area around Loch Haven Park. Theatre Downtown was prematurely evicted from their longtime Orange Avenue home by Florida Hospital in early 2015, and 2016 is arriving with no evidence of progress or even plans for the building's future. A few blocks south, Ivanhoe Village's artist-friendly enclave of funky warehouses is on the verge of being demolished wholesale, to be replaced by mid-rise apartments that no one reading this column can likely afford. A few area anchors have either already relocated (Thirsty Topher) or will be rebuilt (the Venue), but it's uncertain if the neighborhood's cultural character can survive. And folks are already freaking out over the 25th annual Orlando Fringe, whose lottery was so oversubscribed that well over 100 acts – including many of the Fest's most popular past performers – ended up on the wait list.
As a modest proposal, I suggest we kill several birds with one stone and liberate these doomed buildings from their landlords, squatting in them as alternative venues for those frozen out of Fringe. Hey, they can't bulldoze a building while it's full of artists ... can they?