click to enlarge Gloomy Bear - Jon-Paul Douglass' "Rain Bear," part of Snap Orlando's "Homegrown," at OMA through May 22
  • Gloomy Bear - Jon-Paul Douglass' "Rain Bear," part of Snap Orlando's "Homegrown," at OMA through May 22

Orlando's art scene is always proving people wrong. No sooner do you think you have a handle on a given show - in this case, Snap Orlando's slick four-day "celebration of photography," which ended May 8 - than a hidden facet emerges to subvert your preconceptions.

Snap's "Homegrown," for instance: The small locals-only show hanging at Orlando Museum of Art through May 22 eschews the sharp edges of the larger Snap exhibits and events. (The main show, at Craig Ustler's GAI building, was an impressive collection of internationally established photographers.) This group of Central Florida artists offers images that are not all quite so polished, but certainly as lively.

The best pictures in this show (curated by Stephanie Latscu and Heather Comparetto) are grounded in a recognizable sense of place - indeed, befitting a show of Floridians, the strongest images involve water. The first photo, Comparetto's lushly hued "Medusa," is an underwater portrait, and a nicely cohesive group at the far end of the gallery (including John Deeb's "Naegleria Fowleri," Jon-Paul Douglass' "Rain Bear," Patricia Lois Nuss' "Venus in Waves" and Lesley Silva's "Once - Deluge") all place their subjects in water of one kind or another: a pool, a reed-choked stream, ocean waves or raindrops. Jennifer O'Malley's tough "Pygmalion's Garden," somehow vivid and faded at the same time, punctuates all that liquid with Floridian flowers, and Chase Heavener's "The Fourth, 2010" implies it, set on a dark beach with the ocean just out of frame.

At other points "Homegrown" moves into photojournalism, fashion editorial, digitally manipulated images and prints on canvas or wax. The inevitable flaw of group shows is that they're all over the place. Latscu and Comparetto meet their stated goals; the show is all photographs, all Central Floridian artists, and all the images speak to "perception and reality," Snap's 2011 theme. Yet these parameters aren't strict enough to forestall the slight jumble-sale effect of so many different styles crowding each other. This isn't a criticism of any of the images - I look forward to seeing solo shows from all of these artists, and indeed future shows curated by Latscu and/or Comparetto.

Big, glitzy fêtes and pick-uppy art parties are normal, even necessary parts of the local artosphere, but sometimes the work and the curatorial intent gets lost in all of the social networking. I'd rather visit a tiny white cube or brick-walled space: fewer hors d'oeuvres, fewer images crammed onto the wall, more thought and intention. Shows like "Homegrown" make it clear that we have the talent to support it.

- Jessica Bryce Young

In the arts world, the word "influence" is used most often to refer to ways that artists naturally impact the work of their peers. But two prominent members of Orlando's arts community are now ready to extend their influence on state artists in quite a different way. Last month, House Speaker Dean Cannon appointed Margot H. Knight and Chip Weston to the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, where they will serve as advisers to Florida's secretary of state for two-year terms on matters regarding grant funding, arts education and other cultural concerns.

Knight, the president and CEO of United Arts, and Weston, board member of the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and McRae Art Studio member, worked together for the past two years (in an initiative they dubbed "Art Means Business") to demonstrate the capacity art has to revitalize the economy. In these efforts, they partnered with House Speaker Dean Cannon, who ultimately nominated the pair for their council appointments. Of the 15 seats on the council, three representatives come from the Orlando area: Knight and Weston join Seminole County's Kathryn Townsend, a former music teacher and president of the Seminole Cultural Arts Council, who was appointed last October.

According to Weston, they want to continue working toward bettering the state's economy through state-funded art programs, and the council will allow them to do just that. Weston, who has taught at Rollins College, the Crealdé School of Art and Full Sail University, has big ideas regarding the decaying arts education model in Florida's schools. As a passionate advocate for what he calls creative education, he hopes to pioneer and bolster virtual art classes that will fill the growing voids in state schools.

"It's a shame that they can't get it in school," Weston says. "Getting your fingers in the paint is very important, but maybe for a period of time we can get through the stage that we're in and bring some sort of online creative education."

Many of the studies that Weston and Knight encountered during their work together demonstrate that arts education keeps people in school longer, improves the learning experience and enhances test performance. In a similar way, arts and cultural events attract creative professionals to the state and bring business to communities. This leads to more dollars being spent and makes it possible for artists to earn a living creating art.

Weston, who has succeeded as a musician, muralist, advertising illustrator, economist and teacher, hopes that by fostering Florida's art scene, everyone benefits directly. That's why he and Knight believe it's important for regions that receive state funding to show a direct return on the taxpayers' investment. They will act as both gatekeepers to funding and protectors of art community integrity, scrutinizing what's working and finding ways to maintain and expand progress at creative organizations throughout the state.

"I see my role as a connector, bringing people together who may not have been able to meet easily before," Weston says. "It's just the fact that I'm old and I know so many different people because I've done so many different things."

- Ashley Belanger



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