A look back at the best cultural experiences of 2014 


Toward the end of every year, there are plenty of cultural nudges to reflect on the preceding 11 months or so. At Thanksgiving, we focus on gratitude; at New Year's, we think about what went wrong, what went well and what we want to do better in the following 365 days. It's no different in the arts, though a bit less personally focused. There's so much to be grateful for in the 2014 Orlando cultural scene, and the New Year beckons with promise.


Some of 2013's gifts paid off this year: A new curator, Amy Galpin, and an incredibly generous gift, the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, were vital forces in attracting a major group show of contemporary art, Fractured Narratives, at Rollins' Cornell Fine Arts Museum. And speaking of contemporary art, Glen Gentele, Hansen Mulford and the dedicated curatorial staff at Orlando Museum of Art inaugurated a fantastic new tradition with the Florida Prize, and snagged an incredible donation of their own – the J. Hyde Crawford and Anthony Tortora Collection (which includes works by Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell and Richard Diebenkorn) only strengthens OMA's already deep collection of American art from the 1960s and '70s. The Art & History Museums – Maitland had their own richly deserved good news this year when Maitland Art Center was designated a National Historic Landmark.


The flowering of what was an annual photography extravaganza into a year-round gallery was more than welcome: Snap Space, now living in the historic Cameo Theatre building, brings a sophisticated international edge to Orlando's gallery scene (not to mention a huge Mills 50 welcome sign in the form of Mark Gmehling's massive "Drinsch" mural). Twelve21 Gallery, one of our favorites since their 2010 opening, has been reinvigorated by several attention-grabbing shows curated by AK Art. And it's lovely to see the Gallery at Avalon Island using its small upstairs theater (mostly dark since its brief life as DMAC) to host shows like Ashley Inguanta's poetry and dance performance For the Woman Alone or local psych experimenter Maximino making noise with Brooklyn's Ashley Paul.


Yes, it gets its own section – because downtown's glassy behemoth touches on so many categories. There's Tom McGrath's ceiling installation in the smaller Pugh Theater (see page 39); the wide green lawn of the Seneff Arts Plaza; the newly launched class schedule at their all-ages School of the Arts; and a caliber of programming that we're going to like getting used to – upcoming shows bring performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Alton Brown, Bill Maher, Diana Ross, Ira Glass, Elvis Costello and Pilobolus to Orlando.


We're finally on the map for touring comedians. Sure, we're excited for the upcoming biggies at Dr. Phillips Center, but in 2014 we saw edgier tours including Hannibal Buress, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jay Pharoah, Brian Posehn and Kyle Kinane. And Kinane was the cornerstone of the very first Orlando Indie Comedy Fest, which brought 30 emerging out-of-towners to local stages.


In March, Bookmark It joined Park Ave CDs as a place to buy new books without giving money to Amazon. (Meanwhile, the Bookworm, over on Bumby, continues to be a great centrally located source of used books.) Burrow Press' "quarterly-ish reading series," Functionally Literate, scored a big get with a November Jeff VanderMeer reading, plus their Thursday-morning WPRK radio show joins the "Drunken Odyssey" podcast as a great way to get locally produced book talk in your earholes. And the Maitland Art Center wasn't the only cultural space gaining historic recognition: The Kerouac House is now an official part of the Florida Historical Marker Program, with a nifty blue sign out front donated by Boardwalk Empire actor (and Jack Kerouac fan) Michael Shannon.


The Orlando Philharmonic turned their search for a new music director into a source of pleasure, as the five candidates for the spot audition by conducting programs in the 2014-15 season. (Up next is Eric Jacobsen, of genre-defying modern string quartet Brooklyn Rider, Jan. 10.) The orchestra plans to announce the winner in late spring 2015. Florida Opera Theatre also continued to entertain with their production of the midcentury marvel Trouble in Tahiti; they'll bring Mozart's Così fan tutte to the Pugh Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center in March 2015. Another thing for which we're thankful: The audience for modern classical in Orlando keeps growing. Shows like Man Forever at Will's Pub, Morten Lauridsen at Knowles Memorial Chapel, UCF's Collide Ensemble performing Toru Takemitsu with Sun Araw at Timucua White House and the Living Earth Show at Avalon Gallery helped incubate the next generation of fans ... and here's to more of it all in 2015.


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