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In last week’s column, I railed about the railroading given to Rebecca Morgan and bemoaned the loss of WMFE’s Arts Connection radio show. How now, I gnashed, will artists reach their Central Florida audiences? For balance, this week I want to share positive arts community news, courtesy of people who – I am ashamed to admit – sometimes get short shrift in this space. 

I’m primarily a performing arts guy, by experience and inclination, and as a result I sometimes don’t give Orlando’s visual artists the emphasis that they deserve. The past month-plus of Fringe madness, theme park debuts and personal projects has put a particular damper on my art-watching efforts. So it was serendipitous when items of visual art interest recently crossed my e-desk. Like Alger allegories for the aesthetically inclined, these stories involve local artists bootstrapping themselves up to buck the economic climate.

For over a year, an unassuming office building on the corner of Robinson Street and Magnolia Avenue has housed an interesting experiment for downtown’s art community. Early in 2007, Correll Development and Palm Properties, owners of the circa-1956 Magnolia Quarters building, allowed artist Idith Levy to organize a collective of eight individual artists’ studios on the edifice’s second floor.

The Office Gallery and Art Studios quickly became my habitual final stop on monthly Third Thursday art crawls. With an eclectic and often-changing mix of tenants, I almost always find something there to grab my interest; most recently, Mark Biddle’s excellent exhibit of hi-fi/low-tech multimedia. But I began worrying when I heard founding member John Carollo was vacating. I wondered if today’s volatile market could sustain such an economically uncertain endeavor.

 Enter Frankie Messina of Apartment E (est. 1993), the eccentric evangelist for everything artistic in Orlando. Fifteen years ago, while patronizing the building’s ground-floor Kinkos, he used to gaze up at his then-vacant future office, wondering “what the hell was going on with that building.” Levy recently approached Messina to become a primary tenant and manager of the property, hoping that he’d inject new life in the project. Late last month Messina put out a call for artists and says he received an overwhelming response. Frankie has room to house more than a dozen fine artists, with up to three sharing a single studio to keep rents reasonable. Longer term, he plans to fill the Office with creative businesses, including a black-box theater and an arts lounge with a “Café Tu Tu Tango feel.” Messina’s mantra: In today’s economy, there must be “interaction between business and art, or no one will survive.”

The relaunch commences with Splatter on June 27. Every second and fourth Friday night, Apartment E and the Office will host a free-form BYOArt event: Visual artists are encouraged to bring ready-to-hang works, and performers will have access to a “20 Minutes of Fame” stage where “anything goes.” No cover, no commission, no censorship – just independent thinkers, informal networking and the inevitable after-party intoxication. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be (except maybe the Eugene Snowden concert later that night at the Social).

That’s not downtown’s only example of artists refusing to let a recession restrain them. Designer Julio Lima of Say It Loud advertising is hosting Seeing Red in his Orange Studio on Mills Avenue. The show, sponsored by AIGA and the Peacock Room, starts June 26 and stars the “medium of the masses”: poster art. The look is red and black; the theme is “artists’ unrest with contemporary issues” and the sales support artist-chosen charities.

At the new Hedgecross Gallery on Ventura Avenue, the Preview of Keith Theriot and Josh Garrick’s work concludes June 29 before an October reopening in the GLBCC’s Gallery Q (where Dawn Rosendahl’s Skin Deep resides through the end of the month).  

And on June 19, Inside Out – 8 Years With D.A.D. opens at CityArts Factory, celebrating eight years of the Downtown Arts District with a Third Thursday reception. So get out there – corporate cuts can’t kill culture as long as we still support those creating it.

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