Last March, the Art & History Museums – Maitland's monthlong Art 31 project brought works by a number of internationally acclaimed artists (including Dale Chihuly, Lorrie Fredette and Paige Smith) to the Orlando area. However, nothing topped Jason Hackenwerth's biological balloon sculpture costumes for sheer grin-inducing WTF-ness. You can say they were abstract forms or alien fish; we could only see giant walking naughty bits, and we loved them for it.
The on-ramps are better prospects than the off-ramps, as if merging depends on purging. Outside the I-4 Ultimate construction fences, there's a no-man's-land of heaved purses, flung coolers, thrown books, car parts, children's toys ... the Orlampa Corridor's forgotten detritus, a fascinating linear treasure trove that's constantly changing. You'll need both a driver and a spotter, but the driver needs a fighter pilot's nerves and reaction time. Turn sharp eyes toward any area where they've stopped mowing, and look for piles. At the west side of Kaley, for example, we recently found brass engine parts and a rusty aqua chaise lounge. At Princeton's little westbound on-ramp: an Encyclopedia Britannica – that rare Volume XII – and a dog dish. All fodder for the muse.
A Place Gallery & Studios
649 N. Mills Ave., facebook.com/aplacegallery
The art scene has been especially active in the past 12 months, with galleries closing and opening (usually there's more of the former). Upstairs in a creaky old building at the crossroads of Mills 50, A Place Gallery – the public wing of the Time Waste Management art collective – hosts exciting young and emerging artists. You might see projection mapping or dust collecting, experience a performance meditating on someone's grandmother through the medium of her old fur coat or hear African-American artists discussing the black experience. It's all about the ideas, and unlike many galleries that program a year or more in advance, A Place is deliberately of-the-moment. Original ideas aren't in short supply these days, but venues that air them to the public are. Check it out.
No growing pains here: Artborne sprang onto the scene fully formed, its design and aesthetic perfectly professional and its insider knowledge of Orlando's art world deep and tasteful. It's the local art magazine we didn't know we needed, but are so glad to welcome.
While there was no shortage of reading events this year, Orlando Cringe set itself apart from the herd based purely on content. Instead of readers delivering painstakingly crafted poetry and prose written by (mostly) level-headed adults, readers at Cringe pull their readings straight from the diaries of their younger selves. While the writing may not be on the level of a multilayered sonnet about Greek pottery, audiences do get to hear about middle-school crushes, draconian parents and the heartbreaking betrayals of supposed BFFs. And while Orlando Cringe does live up to its name, inducing shudders and groans of familiarity with the subject matter, the more uplifting aspect of it is that it reminds us that we were maybe not as alone in our "awkward stage" as we thought we were.
Voci Dance's Paint Chips
One of our very favorite shows of Orlando Fringe 2016 was Paint Chips, based on Ken Nordine's 1960s spoken-word classic, Colors. Local dance troupe Voci choreographed dozens of Nordine's short odes to individual colors, preserving the cool, jazzy wit of the originals and imbuing it with their own sprightliness, poignance and intelligence. You may feel that you were colorblind before you embarked on this psychedelic journey.
The Matt Gersting Stage at Bull & Bush
2408 E. Robinson St., 407-896-7546, bullandbushorlando.com
The unexpected death of Matt Gersting left a big hole in Orlando's heart, particularly in the music and comedy scenes. Gersting first rose to local significance in bands like the Sugar Oaks, but his more recent claim to fame was as the founder of the Shit Sandwich comedy showcase at Bull & Bush and, later, one of the original organizers of the Orlando Indie Comedy Fest. It's not a stretch to say that Orlando comedy would not be at the level that it's reached in recent years without Matt Gersting. So it was bittersweet when the Bull & Bush dedicated its stage to Gersting, complete with a memorial plaque. The Matt Gersting Stage may not be the birthplace of the alt-comedy scene here, but it is where it grew up, and having Gersting's name permanently associated with it feels like the right thing to do.
Seneff Arts Plaza at the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts
In the weeks after the Pulse shooting, the broad lawn in front of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, across from City Hall, became an impromptu public mourning space where people could express their grief through songs, prayers and art. Locals brought flowers and teddy bears, while some musicians donated their time to play in the foreground. President Obama and Vice President Biden came here to lay wreaths of white roses. The day after the shooting, 20,000 people gathered to cry, light candles and listen silently while a nearby church bell tolled 49 times.
Stab At It, "Pearl in the Snow"
E.R. Jess' web comic Stab At It, published roughly weekly, is a dependably amusing, slightly nerdy, often surreal four-panel exploration of life's absurdities ... except when it's more than that. On Feb. 8, 2016, Jess posted "Pearl in the Snow," a format-buster that was neither four panels nor amusing. It was, in fact, an exquisite three-page meditation on loss and self-reliance and growth. (Plus a kitten, because of course.) In its simplicity and honesty, every perfectly chosen word pierced to the heart, and no matter how many times we've read it, we still mist up every time. A home-grown example of what comics should and can be.
8 p.m. every first Tuesday, Lil Indies, 1036 N. Mills Ave., willspub.org
Tod Caviness may not have Jon Stewart's (or any) hair, but then again neither does Trevor Noah. The former host of what was voted Orlando's best poetry night an absurd number of times, Speakeasy, Caviness wasn't gone from the stage for a year before he founded a new outlet for local writers. This time, it's a curated list of notables with a passion for current events. The readings take many forms – poems, essays, rants – but they all share one thing in common: They have to revolve around something that happened in the last month. Of course, this may not have been the best year to kick this off; 2016 has been, well, not a treasure trove of good feelings. Still, the writers have made lemonade of it all, and we have some new, more articulate voices to compete with all the shouting on our feeds.