Creative City Project cultivates a blockbuster event

Dozens of artists take over downtown Orlando for one night only

*Editor's note: This story was updated to correct a reporting error. The original version stated that the Creative City Budget had grown to $120,000 in 2014; while that was an early goal of the organizers, the actual 2014 budget was about $50,000.

In the summer of 2012, Cole NeSmith came to the realization that the supposed dearth of culture in Orlando did not jell with the fact that he was surrounded by a community of talented and creative people, all making art on a daily basis. Inspired by “blockbuster events” like Spain’s Las Fallas de Valencia festival or New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, NeSmith decided to create an event that not only showcased local art, but did so in public spaces. Now, as Creative City Project enters its third year, the budget has grown from $3,000 to $50,000.*

Public presentation is key to the Creative City Project. It’s one thing to see a billboard for Orlando Ballet or have your friends tell you how amazing the dancers are; it is yet another thing to amble out of a downtown restaurant and encounter the group performing al fresco in Chase Plaza or outside the Orange County Regional History Center, as they will this year. Also in Heritage Square, projections of Nathan Selikoff’s interactive computer-generated images will be shown on a large suspended screen.

“I love the Creative City Project’s emphasis on engaging the city with art, wonder and beauty in public spaces,” says Selikoff. Arguably one of Orlando’s more unique artists, Selikoff combines computer code with traditional materials and future technology to create visuals that are mesmerizing; his work is best experienced rather than described. Selikoff is coy on the specific details of his piece, in no small part because it’s a malleable creation and could change substantially by the Nov. 1 event date.

NeSmith’s little nugget of an idea has grown organically but quickly over its brief history, and it’s on track to truly become a blockbuster event by 2016. Following last year’s event, NeSmith received a call from Thomas Chatmon, executive director of the Downtown Development Board, who said he wanted to see the Creative City Project become Downtown Orlando’s signature event.  

“It was time to kick things into high gear,” says NeSmith. The event began as one presentation every day in October; it was collapsed into a one-night extravaganza in its second iteration and will eventually grow to four nights with a main event each night, in addition to pop-up projects.

The DDB’s involvement has already proven helpful with regard to logistics and permitting, which can be a challenge when planning any event, never mind one as ambitious as this. (One can only imagine the raised eyebrows when the Creative City team walked in to secure permitting for a crane on Orange Avenue from which a Cirque du Soleil silks performer will be suspended.)

“The cast and crew of La Nouba took great pride in being part of the first edition a couple of years ago,” says the show’s artistic director, Daniel Ross. “The circus was born in the street and every time we bring performance to a public urban area, it is very much like going back to our roots.”

That Cirque-above-Orange feat speaks to NeSmith’s hope to “elevate the creative climate of our city”; Creative City Project gives Orlandoans a broad-based glimpse into our current art scene and, perhaps more importantly, the vibrant – dare we say edgy? – scene it is becoming. Composer Keith Lay, for example, plans to conduct one of his intricately constructed compositions with musicians placed throughout Heritage Square. Thad Anderson’s UCF Percussion ensemble will perform Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” sometimes called minimal music’s “first masterpiece.” DEK Creative will bring to life Goya’s haunting painting “The Spell” in a “living interpretation” with costumes and music, and Loft 55 Gallery will host a graffiti wall, an expression of creativity generally frowned upon in this sector of the City Beautiful.

Event sponsor Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts will not merely pass out brochures; they will make it snow at their booth, in anticipation of the multiple-award-winning clown show Slava’s Snow coming to the center in February. In a similar vein, the Art and History Museums – Maitland will park their Andrew Spear-designed art car, filled with beach balls emblazoned with the center’s Mayan iconography, on the corner of Orange and Washington. Through interpretive dance, Emotions Dance Company will remove the balls from the car and give them to passersby. A&H director of development Devin Dominguez says Creative City speaks to Maitland Art Center’s original mission: “We are a place to come and make things and interact with art. This is a good partnership.”

Pine Street will become a bevy of interactive installations of poetry and music. The Mud Flappers are back for a third year, joined by the gypsy-jazz Cook Trio. EMP (Electronic Mobile Performance), a project featuring faculty and students from Stetson University, plans to wheel interactive digital art around on grocery carts. Shine Shed will lead attendees through their installation Spaceship Self, a “sci-fi exploration of self.” NeSmith himself will present a series of interactive projections, and dozens more arts groups will perform dance, magic, music, puppetry and poetry.

Pine Street will also host a 20-foot-by-20-foot black box that will “immerse participants in an art and music experience,” according to the CCP website. “Our hope is in the coming years we’ll have two dozen of the boxes available throughout the city, in which 15-20 people could have interactive experiences,” says NeSmith. This may be the rare case when thinking inside the box embodies Orlando’s unique creativity.


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