Stumble over serendipity as Art in Odd Places activates the public spaces of downtown Orlando 

Come out and play

If you have plans that don't involve being downtown this Saturday, you should steer clear of the entire area. But if you don't have plans at all, it's going to be the most vital two or three square miles in all of metro Orlando as Nov. 12 brings together possibly the weirdest mashup of interests the CBD has ever hosted. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the annual Veterans Day Parade honors men and women who've fought in service of our country. From noon to 10 p.m., Come Out With Pride, which had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Matthew, takes over much of downtown, the high point being their 4 p.m. parade around Lake Eola. Also at 4 p.m., gates open for WMMO's free Bret Michaels concert in front of City Hall (nothin' but a good time, no doubt).

But Saturday is also the midpoint and longest day of the three-day Art in Odd Places festival, which will be making downtown deliciously weird over, under, around and throughout all of those other activities. Dozens of artists from all over the world will install art, interact and inventively stretch the minds of passers-by.

"There are nine freestanding projects, 16 installations with performance, projection and sound, 15 performance projects, two video projections, one app, and one live art experience," says Barbara Hartley of the Downtown Arts District, AIOP's festival manager. "Of the 44 projects, eight of them are roaming along the festival route. This year's theme of 'Play' lends itself to more movement and interaction."

And speaking of movement, Pride's rescheduling meant AIOP had to make a lot of last-minute moves, including the footprint of the festival and the locations of some site-specific pieces being created by out-of-town artists based on detailed measurements and photographs supplied by the curators.

The new footprint of the festival is Magnolia Avenue from Jefferson Street to South Street, and Pine Street between Magnolia Avenue and Orange Avenue, and AIOP co-curator Genevieve Bernard looks forward to sharing space with all of the other events.

The idea of Art in Odd Places, says Bernard, is that "you're supposed to stumble upon this stuff" in an unexpected way. "But some of the areas last year, nobody stumbled to." Last year's festival was more of a destination event, but this year, with all of the other things going on, festival organizers hope for more of those accidental moments of serendipity.

click to enlarge “PLOP PROP” BY DANA HARGROVE
  • “Plop Prop” by Dana Hargrove

This year's theme, "Play," is a prompt both for artists and for viewers, a lens to help them interpret this year's work. "Play" might seem too cheery, almost forcing a light tone and dispelling any of the darkness that might have been expected – and certainly is still being felt – in Orlando this year.

A few of the pieces are unabashedly heavy, like Stephanie Mercedes' "The Ring of Freedom," which consists of 49 small replicas of the Liberty bell cast from a melted-down Sig Sauer rifle (the firearm used in the Pulse shooting). Some are unreservedly simple fun – like Grace Brett's circus-arts "Play Station," Megan Boye's "Hopscotch"and Stephanie Cafcules' "Playing With Paint." But many face viewers with dual intentions, a lighthearted surface sparring with an underlying level of pain or darkness.

Alexander Hernandez's "Cuddle," a clutch of life-size stuffed fabric bodies, offers itself up as comfort for anyone in need of it – the soft sculptures are to "hold, cuddle or spoon," says the artist. "These sculptures are a stand-in for anything or anyone that might be missing in their lives." The MOP Collective's "Monsters on Parade" dances its way through downtown picking up participants as it goes; in this year, during this Pride, perhaps hundreds of people will see this piece not as an entertaining movement exercise but a chance to exorcise the literal monsters who tried to steal the joy and light from our community in June.

Aside from New York, where it was born and happens every year, Orlando is the first city to host Art in Odd Places more than once. It's here this year because the city of Orlando said, "Let's do it again." And festival founder Ed Woodham was so impressed by what happened in Orlando in 2015 that he said, "Yeah, let's do it again." It's that spirit of being ready to come out and play, no matter what else is going on, that builds great arts cities. 

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