Best Of 2020

Best Porchraits
Photo by Lego Explore Orlando

Matt Keller Lehman's 'Social Distancing at 85mm' series

As we spent the first months of the quarantine sternly admonishing you to "stay at home, stay at home" like a broken record, we became aware of a gnawing need to see fellow humans. We weren't alone. Orlando Weekly photographer Matt Keller Lehman was eager to do a porch portrait series, interviewing and photographing Orlandoans in lockdown, and we quickly compiled a list of just a few near and dear to our collective hearts. Seeing these portraits and reading their words made them seem closer and infinitely farther away at the same time. But that's life for the moment. We're still locked down, but we hope to see you all again someday soon.

Best COVID-Related Art Show
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Redefine Gallery, 'Stay Home Make Art'

April 16, 2020

Throughout March and early April, Redefine Gallery's single-named owner-curator Parker (part of a trio that includes Peter van Flores and Mauricio Murillo) says, he used his art to sublimate the anxiety of the rising pandemic. Then, "I started seeing other artists posting amazing pieces created with the same intention, and was super impressed with the amount of quality work that had already been created in a short period of time," he says. So Redefine mounted Stay Home Make Art, a virtual art show for the quarantined era. It was a symbol of solidarity with every artist, every essential worker, every human fighting their personal fight against the virus.

Best Book by a Local
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'Lake Life,' by David James Poissant

As the Starling family gathers for their last annual vacation at the North Carolina cottage they've owned for decades, the ties that bind them have frayed until they're threadbare – and in the weekend that follows, they rupture completely, setting loose a tide of secrets and lies. Poissant is one of our most talented local writers and we've been waiting for this, his first novel, for what feels like a very long time. If 2020 did nothing else good, at least it brought us this book.

Best Book by One of Our Former Interns
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'In the Land of Good Living,' by Kent Russell

Subtitled "A Journey to the Heart of Florida," Kent Russell's book chronicles the unfolding of a very bad idea: He and two friends – Iraq War veteran Noah and "dad-bodied" Canadian Glenn – decide to walk 1,000 miles across the state of Florida. (Yes, a very bad idea, but what do you expect from a person who decides to spend a whole summer with us, writing about City Council meetings and <checks archives> free wifi?) As the three trudge south down the dread peninsula, they encounter beauty, sleaze, vapidity and sagacity – sometimes all at once, as when they interview a man who plays Jesus at the Holy Land Experience or a dancer at Tampa's famed Mons Venus.

Best History Lessons
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'Wait Five Minutes: The Floridian Podcast'

You may think you know Florida history and lore – Ponce de Leon, orange groves, Spook Hill, blah blah – but you won't know what you're missing until you devote a few hours to catching up on "Wait Five Minutes." Nick D'Alessandro poetically explores the past and present of this green swamp of ours, sorting fact from myth and chronicling his findings in a personal yet universal way – from Kermit Weeks to Henry Flagler, Lou the Homosassa hippo to Ice Age mastodons. (And if you get the title, give yourself 5 Official Floridian points.)

Best Performing Arts Pivot
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Orlando Fringe's virtual 'Fringe Today'

May 12-25, 2020

When Orlando Fringe first announced the cancellation of their 2020 Festival on March 19 – only days after they had promised that "the show would go on," and long before COVID-19 cases in Central Florida started to spike – some thought the precaution premature, if not excessive. But it turned out to be a prescient decision that's helped save the organization's payroll through this precarious time. Best of all, the free "Fringe Today" online programming they presented in the Festival's stead, which continues with monthly First Fringe Friday broadcasts, has become a model for other organizations to follow.

Best Artful Adaptation to the Pandemic
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Brian Feldman's '#txtshow' goes global

As coronavirus canceled live entertainment, countless performers turned to digital streaming, but if anyone was born to capitalize on this crazy moment, it's Orlando Weekly's favorite performance artist, Brian Feldman. After all, he sealed himself inside a skill crane arcade machine and sang musicals over the telephone long before social distancing was a thing. So it's apropos that Feldman has spent his quarantine on a virtual "world tour," performing his signature audience-interactive experiment #txtshow in Rhode Island, Colorado, even Australia – all from the safety of his Washington, D.C., apartment.

Best New Visions
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Kieran Castaño's 'A Certain Kind of Light'

Jan. 10-31, 2020

Sanford-based artist Kieran Castaño has exhibited in Orlando before, but his Mills Gallery retrospective in January was the best encapsulation yet of the creative evolution of this fearsome talent. Castaño's personal perspective of living as a trans man informs the thematics of his work, with heartstopping portraits and defiant political statements all rendered painstakingly on canvas. His technique takes in Caravaggio and R. Crumb alike. The scale of his canvases is captivating, with breathtaking attention to detail in every line and brushstroke.

Best Overdue Conversation
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Black Artists for Black Lives and Central Florida Entertainment Advocacy Forum

Orlando's arts community prides itself on being progressive and inclusive, but according to a growing number of local Black artist-activists, it still has a ways to go. June's "Black Artists for Black Lives" rally downtown, organized by performers Elisabeth Christie and Danielle Harris, demonstrated the diversity of voices all calling for change in our community; and July's three-day Central Florida Entertainment Advocacy Forum, led by Meka King and Felichia Chivaughn Ellison, helped kickstart a much-needed conversation about systemic racism in Central Florida's art institutions that is still continuing online.

Best Emergency Arts Patronage
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Feed the Need Florida

4 Rivers Smokehouse owner John Rivers' 4Roots Foundation started Feed the Need March 28 as a way to help food-insecure families. In May, Feed the Need began partnering with St. Luke's UMC specifically to help local musicians, artists, creatives and theme park workers who saw their livelihoods severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Twice a week Feed the Need volunteers serve free meals curbside-style at the Plaza Live and St. Luke's to anyone who needs one, no questions asked. With well over 1 million meals served, there's still much work to be done.