Gallery swap a fair Exchange 

Do you know where your RV is parked?

When the RV in question is artist/gallery maven Robin Van Arsdol, the answer holds some surprises. Though Van Arsdol's Warehouse Gallery was a local fixture for 20 years, battles with his landlord recently forced him to vacate its Philadelphia Avenue premises. That crisis was a key development in the collapse of the Alden Arts District, and while Van Arsdol still thinks that the cause of officially sanctioned culture is a viable one, he's relied on no city support to secure his new digs, a two-gallery setup on the second floor of the Church Street Exchange.

That's right, the Church Street Exchange -- the fading retail arm of the Church Street Station tourist playground. And RV nearly has the floor to himself. His twin spaces, RV's Pop Shop Sign and the palindromically named Sprockets Gallery Sprockets, constitute his only "official" presence in the Exchange, but the attraction's severe downturn has given him carte blanche to fill the neighboring empty storefronts with art.

The results of his relatively quiet, four-week move-in certainly look gallery-worthy. The Exchange's glass cubicles lend none of the ad-hoc sensibility that pervaded the ArtsMall project in the old Winter Park Mall. Currently, Van Arsdol has works by four international artists and about a dozen locals in his inventory, and regularly scheduled art shows and other special events are planned to keep the business in the public eye.

That initiative begins this Friday, Jan. 19, as Italian artist Paolo Buggiani inaugurates an exhibit of his three-dimensional images. Buggiani is known for doing some extreme things with live flame, once setting an entire bridge on fire in the name of art. His Church Street performance, Van Arsdol says, may see him burning a safety-treated rope over the outside fountain. (Makes those gyroscope rides downstairs look like kid stuff, doesn't it?)

It's all a great advertisement for RV's galleries. "God loves me a whole lot," he says as he basks in his new surroundings.

The Lord must not have been as fond of Sam Goody. But Van Arsdol isn't worried that an eventual turnaround in Church Street's renting fortunes might put the kibosh on his plans. He's already counting on an influx of artists to follow him into the Exchange, taking over his "unofficial" extra spaces.

At that point, the city's influence may be felt. Brenda Robinson, Orlando's executive director of arts and cultural affairs, is deciding if her office can afford a storefront of its own. Unfortunately, her first priority is to install the LizArt Hotel and Spa, a repair-and-refurbishment center for the omnipresent lizard sculptures. (Note to fellow reptile-haters: Spas are prime locations for mob-style hits. See "The Godfather: Part II" for details.)

Van Arsdol's purse strings appear looser than Robinson's. To deepen his involvement in downtown affairs, he says, he's buying property at Parramore Avenue and Church Street. But for now, changing the Exchange's image is task enough.

There's only one downside. Should he succeed, we'll all have to find a new tourist trap to make fun of. Heard any good Pointe Orlando jokes lately?

On the heels of a dream

Two more performances of the cross-dressing comedy Murder's a Drag have been added to the Theatre Downtown schedule. Shows at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 20, will provide the last glimpses of the great, campy fun that made the play's brief run an unexpected highlight of the winter theater season. After the final curtain falls, lead actor Tom Vazzana and his co-conspirators may take the show to a cabaret theater in Rochester, N.Y. In the meantime, the cabaret act Vazzana has been performing at Madrid Tapas Bar (as part of a trio completed by Andrea Canny and Trudie Petersen) will likely start up again around Valentine's Day.

But what happens to "Murder's" extensive wardrobe, which ranges from off-the-Ross-rack fashions to gloriously grotesque retro ensembles? Vazzana says he'll keep the pieces in his garage -- "and maybe put one on every once in a while, while I vacuum." Just call him J. Edgar Hoover.

News comes in stages

Last Saturday's grand opening of the SJS Entertainment Complex in Sanford revealed that the facility is nowhere close to finished. Among the items still on the "wish list" passed out to potential investors: spotlights, an audio board, 550 seats, a neon marquee sign and stage curtains. A gentleman who looked like Mel Torme in a windbreaker almost knocked over the Roman column that was among the auditorium's few decorations. ("I'm not doin' too well tonight," he apologized. "I'm walkin' like a penguin.") The night's brightest spot was the performance of four songs by DeLand composer Wolf Sanchez, whose musical "State of Grace" debuts May 4 at SJS ... Congratulations to University of Central Florida students Mareeko Finney, Reginald Jernigan and Mike Chappell, whose videotaped performance of a scene from "The Great Gatsby" took First Prize in the A&E Great American Student Screen Test, a competition sponsored by the A&E cable network. Schools from across the nation submitted clips of their finest thespians enacting the same scene from F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel; winners were named during last Sunday morning's broadcast of A&E's Breakfast with the Arts program. The UCF students earned a $500 department grant for the school, and each received a $250 savings bond. The Grand Prize went to Ball State, to whom we say: See ya in next year's Hemingway Bowl, chumps!

Pay it sideways

If there are any more benefit events at iMPACTE! Productions, they're going to have to rename the place Bangladesh. This week's charity case is funnyman Bob DeRosa, who's throwing a Saturday, Jan. 20, bash to raise funds for his current film project, "Gifted." (It shoots Feb. 4 through 18 at various locations throughout Orlando.) The benefit includes live comedy, music and a silent auction; the latter's most interesting prize is a personal visit from DeRosa's THEM teammate, Ian Covell, who will stop by the lucky winner's home for 90 minutes of low-pressure socializing.

"He'll probably bring some chips and salsa," DeRosa says. What a cheap way to jack up the bids ...

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