State of the Arts

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Karen Berneman is a little breathless, having lugged two huge paintings to her shared studio three flights above the Orlando Visual Artists' League gallery and studios on Orange Avenue. It wasn't the stairs that got to her; an elevator takes her directly to the loft. But Berneman and her creations had to plow through rush-hour traffic and dodge downtown pedestrians in a race to arrive on time for a series of meetings -- one of which could lead to a new exhibition for her loft mates and herself this fall.

"These are two of my latest," she says with a sigh as she plops her paintings onto of a pile of others, raising a cloud of chalky dust from the floor. "They're my current favorites. I had them hanging in my home, but I wanted the Chiaroscuro to see them." The director of the highly regarded Chiaroscuro Museum of Emerging Contemporary Artists in Mount Dora is coming to discuss the possibility of mounting an exhibition by the Fourth Floor Artists group, as the five friends who share the loft call themselves.

The young artists, who met at the University of Central Florida, concentrate on renderings of human figures in charcoal, white paint and gouache. Their work is impressive to another of today's visitors, fellow artist James Jacob Pierri, who also focuses on the human figure in his paintings and who moved back to Orlando last winter after several years in New York City. Pierri, who has been trying to decide whether to move his workspace downtown from his home near Orlando International Airport, is in awe of their loft.

The exposed-brick walls would be many an artist's dream, with windows that draw in the late afternoon sun and reveal a glimmering city skyline. "You guys don't know how lucky you are to have this space!" Pierri says as he makes his way through the unfinished but spacious three rooms. "It's inspiring up here. I can't believe you're only paying $500 for 1,000 square feet downtown. You know how much space like this would go for in New York?"

Berneman and her friends, who staged the well-received mixed-media SOIL show for new artists at the Orlando Museum of Art last spring, have not thought much about the fact their rent is affordable because of the city's underwriting of their landlord, OVAL. Although they benefit from the city's largesse, none of the Fourth Floor Artists is interested in joining the sanctioned arts league.

"I don't want to come off as elitist," Berneman says, "but ours is a working studio. The major difference between our little group and theirs is that they're more into having it be an arts club, like a Moose lodge. Theirs is a big smoke and mirrors thing ... They're creating an illusion of an arts' scene."

Much the same might be -- and is being -- said about the fledgling Downtown Arts District.

Few would argue against the merits of the city's quest to breathe life into downtown by encouraging galleries, studios and theaters, all of which could lure more restaurants and better shops to serve the demand of patrons seeking more than just nightclubs. Still, two years after the designation of the district, or DAD, by Mayor Glenda Hood's administration and nine months after the ballyhooed premiere of the "arts crawl" with a grand-opening reception for OVAL, the result of the campaign to create an anchor for the arts is almost nonexistent to many area artists, downtown workers and visitors.

It's not that nothing has happened within those designated 20 square blocks. Artists quickly snapped up all 15 of the studio spaces at OVAL, at 29 S. Orange Ave., and seven more at the privately owned O2 Elements, which opened last March up the street at 49 N. Orange Ave. Another privately operated showplace, The Gallery at Avalon Island, 39 S. Magnolia Ave., also arrived on the downtown scene just days before OVAL's debut last November.

While these additions represent progress, there is still only a scattering of arts-related enterprises in the broadly drawn district. During the time Orlando's DAD has been on the drawing boards, some cities of comparable size -- led by Providence, R.I.'s, inventive program of incentives for artists, art buyers and real-estate developers -- have made long strides in advancing arts-designated neighborhoods. But DAD has been stymied by problems ranging from the city's own red tape to expectations that ran too high too soon. Even several of the major movers and shakers in Orlando's arts scene are now expressing their frustration.

"We have yet to achieve critical mass," says Terry Hummel, the mixed-media artist who has overseen the birth of OVAL through a long, arduous labor. Hummel, who recently announced his resignation as the league's first president, says that on the night of the gallery's opening gala Nov. 28, "I never dreamed it would be another half-year before we could open our doors on a regular basis. "

"We were all so enthused last November; it seems we may have gotten a little carried away prematurely," concedes Brenda Robinson, the city's executive director of arts and cultural affairs.

Indeed, excitement ran high that autumn evening, as hundreds of art makers, aficionados and city officials crowded into OVAL's new street-level gallery-studio complex to sip champagne at the mayor's official ribbon-cutting. There was talk of "a palpable synergy" taking place; everything was coming together. But hopes that OVAL would become ground zero for a vibrant arts district quickly evaporated. The space -- leased from the city -- was forced to shut down the very next day to complete its remodeling. The doors remained closed all winter and well into the spring. "There were holdups by city-required architects, city contractors, city and state inspectors and fire marshals," Hummel says. "It just kept dragging on."

DAD is the city's second attempt to create an arts district; its proclamation of an Alden Road arts district alongside North Orange Avenue's antique row went nowhere fast a couple years earlier. But without OVAL as an anchor, projects and activities in the new district were postponed, including a planned monthly "arts crawl" through downtown venues and a series of "special events." A theater originally slated to occupy the middle of OVAL's space was scrapped after architects decided the idea was impractical. The Central Florida Theatre Alliance, which leases OVAL's space from the city and subleases it to the league, decided not to go to the expense of putting a half-price ticket booth inside OVAL, although space for it was (and is) set aside.

Progress on another DAD-subsidized theater, in the former Don Asher Realty building at South Street and Magnolia Avenue and intended to be the site of the Orlando Youth Theatre and Academy, met with the same kind of permitting problems that plagued OVAL. The curtain also remained closed on an intimate 70-seat house planned by Theatre Alliance board member Ford Kiene on the second floor of his meticulously restored Rogers Building, home to the handsome Gallery at Avalon Island. Although several local theater companies have been clamoring to stage performances in Kiene's space, the theater has been unable to find its way through the city's maze of inspections. As of early August, Kiene was still waiting for an assembly permit, as was the children's theater.

One of the arts district's earliest supporters, Kiene -- along with Brenda Robinson -- had knocked on corporate doors all over town to raise $200,000 required to qualify DAD for matching seed money from the city. Now, Kiene admits, he's "very disappointed with the city's treatment of theaters. Other cities have special ordinances to allow theaters to operate in older buildings. I have an elevator, sprinklers, more safeguards than 80 percent of the older buildings, including many that are bars. Still, the fire marshal's office has been a real stumbling block."

"The grief Ford has gotten is typical of the city's foot-dragging," says Hummel. "Downtown has the infrastructure and ambiance to be an arts center, but you can't just declare it to be so. If the city wants DAD to succeed, it needs to streamline the process of permitting and ass-kissing. Can we put up a sign advertising our event? 'No.' Can we close the street? 'No.' Instead of saying 'no' to every request from the arts community, if the city at least said 'maybe' some of the time ..."

OVAL finally got its OK to open in May, just as the city's monthly outdoor Arts Market on Wall Street Plaza was beginning its summer break. DAD's commissioners decided to delay any other special events until cooler weather returned in the fall. "Everyone was afraid that if we had poor turnouts, it would tarnish our image," say Hummel.

Although Hummel sees this October as DAD's "next best opportunity to reach critical mass," this time he'll be participating as an artist rather than as OVAL's president-slash-unpaid gallery coordinator: "I've been the free property manager for the city long enough." Although he may sound bitter at times, he says he still believes in the DAD's viability. "Even in summer, crowds have exceeded our expectations for our exhibit openings. I could fill all of our studio spaces again tomorrow. And, in October, our 'Third-Thursday' openings will expand to include all of downtown."

Four of the artists in the Fourth Floor collective are sitting in a semicircle on the chalky hardwood floor of their studio, talking with visitors about the problems facing DAD and its first offspring, OVAL.

James Pierri says that he first heard about the formation of a new city-supported artists' group downtown last February, shortly after his move back to Orlando. As many of his peers have done, the 27-year-old painter-illustrator left Central Florida a few years ago to study and work in a more stimulating urban environment. Since his return, he has sold a few pieces at a gallery in Winter Park, but he wonders whether he should have stayed in New York. "My first experience with OVAL didn't improve my attitude that there still isn't much of an art scene here," he says. "I called to ask about membership. The guy who identified himself as its administrator told me not to bother -- that nothing much would probably come of it ...

"But this studio of yours," he is quick to add, "it's really something."

OVAL is able to charge its artist tenants such a low price for space because its rent is subsidized by the city through DAD. Although OVAL must pay rent to DAD (at a steadily increasing rate over the term of its five-year sublease), the total OVAL will owe is less than half of what the city is paying for its master lease on the building. That's where the city's pledge of $200,000 and those private donations -- currently about $230,000 raised or committed -- come in. Of a total rent of $549,000, OVAL will have to repay the city only $127,800, or about 25 percent. It also is required to pay back the bulk of a $50,000 loan used for build-out. Once it finally opens, the youth theater in the city-owned Don Asher building will operate under a similar DAD subsidy.

"If artists wonder where all the pledged money has gone, they need to realize how expensive property is downtown," says Brenda Robinson. "And we're paying considerably less than full-market value for OVAL's space. Sure, we want to have more venues for the arts district. We'd like to buy a big building for an arts center, and we definitely want more theaters. But it takes time and money."

She points proudly to the city council's approval last month of its first real incentive for developers to include a gallery or theater space in their downtown buildings: matching grants of up to $20,000 for such investments. "It's an important step," Robinson says, "but the city can't do it all. Orange County has an important role." DAD is already lining up to seek a share of the tourist-tax dollars the county intends to pledge to arts organizations next year.

"We've also got to bring in more contributions from businesses, particularly new companies locating in the city," she says. "That's what we're working on. I'm not a fundraiser, per se. I don't enjoy it, but we've got to do it. You'd be surprised how many people in this community don't want any of their tax dollars to go for art."

The need to raise more money for DAD, as well as to lift its public profile, persuaded Robinson and Hood to launch their "LizArt" campaign -- a variation on a theme employed by many other cities: Chicago had its cows, Cincinnati its pigs, Toronto its moose, Lexington its horses. The city managed to persuade civic and corporate sponsors to cough up $3,800 each for the cost of construction of about 125 of the fiberglass sculptures (down from the original goal of 200), and Universal Orlando kicked in $100,000 to promote the project. Artists selected to decorate the lizards received $1,000 for each themed creature -- a cop-lizard to represent the police department, a hard-hat worker for the utilities commission.

When the creatures are auctioned off in January, the proceeds will go to the arts district. At first, DAD's commissioners hoped to raise as much as half-a-million dollars selling their lizards; they've since scaled back their expectations to about $100,000 (a far cry from the $3 million raised by the sale of 300 cows in Chicago).

The Fourth Floor Artists don't have a high regard for the colorful reptiles. They are not so much works of art as thinly veiled "commercials" for sponsoring businesses and promos for local tourism, the artists agree. The lizard campaign also has failed to help the arts district find a sense of identity with the public.

"People still don't perceive downtown as a place to experience art," says Chris Davison. "Tourists stop me on the street all the time asking where they might find any art galleries. If there were some kind of signs downtown pointing the way or if there was a walking map, maybe a web directory, it could help." (For the record, Robinson says that banners, signs and a better map of arts venues are coming soon. For now, there is only a newly installed poster display in the windows of the old J. C. Penney building at Orange Avenue and Jefferson Street. Promoting "cultural tourism" is a major goal.)

If it's still so difficult for the public to see downtown as a hub for art, then why are so many local artists setting up shop there? "For us, it's the character," says Karen Berneman of the Fourth Floor group. "It kind of looks like a metropolis in this part of the city. Plus it's convenient to Thornton Park, where there is relatively cheap yet desirable living space."

"Even at the recent Orange County meeting on funding for the arts, everyone was saying there's no reason to come downtown," adds Kristofer Porter, another member of the group. "But we like the aesthetics, and we can afford it here."

Terry Hummel acknowledges the primary reason OVAL has a waiting list of artists clamoring for studio space is "price rather than location. Most artists in the Orlando area have to hold down other jobs to support their art habit. All of them would like to have studios with high ceilings and exposed brick walls, but their foremost concern is cost. They're even willing to put up with the lack of parking and all the ticketing around here to get an affordable space, especially when there is an opportunity to meet and mingle with other artists."

OVAL's ground-level studios, which open onto its gallery, rent for only $165 a month. Wall space to hang art in the public viewing area is available to 125 artist members for $75 per 10 feet. Although anyone can join OVAL, in order to become an "artist member," one must submit slides and be evaluated by a review committee.

"We want to build community," Hummel says. "But we don't want anyone to think of us as a painting circle. There is a fine line between working for quality and elitism, between being curators and censors."

The image of a painting circle already exists. "I went to one of the openings. It was too inbred," says Pierri. "Just a group of friends showing to friends. 'Oh, your work is so beautiful.' 'Oh, so is yours.' I decided it wasn't for me. I'd rather be showing to someone who might actually buy."

"They're in it to build their own image," agrees Kristofer Porter.

"With OVAL, the cheese factor is huge," adds Karen Berneman.

OVAL member Bethany Myers has a different perspective: "We are proud of each other," she says. "Lots of artists buy each other's work. I visit the OVAL gallery at least twice a week just to get ideas and be among people with a similar goal."

Although some of those who rent studios in OVAL or hang work there say they are not selling much, others are quite satisfied. "I've sold very well," says painter Cecil Herring. "Even the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando bought one of my works and displayed the image on huge screens during their Sunday Musicale... Another woman came with a national redevelopment group studying the Downtown Arts District. She bought a painting."

Hilda Spain-Owen credits OVAL's July group show with the sale of a $2,400 painting. "A girl from New York who was in Orlando for a conference came downtown just to see downtown. She saw my work ... Because of OVAL, I will have a piece hanging in Manhattan. Now that's exposure, not only for me but this New Yorker will go home and tell lots of folks that she bought art in downtown Orlando... There's a reason for the city to support the arts."

Painter Allison Constantino also knows that there are buyers downtown: "I had 54 paintings hanging in the First Union lobby on Orange and Central last year. It provided lots of sales for me. I had a captive audience of office workers ... I got another one of my artist friends lined up to show her work, and she did equally well. I know the workers downtown buy art. It just seems that the venues after-hours are more difficult to pull off." Other artists concur that parking hassles and driving time to downtown from the suburbs make it tough to draw nighttime crowds.

Or, as Judy Stead, a painter who gave up her assigned studio at OVAL during the long winter delay, puts it, "When 'grownups,' the ones with money to spend on art, can go downtown and feel like they are not in alien territory, the Downtown Arts District will be on its way. When the galleries and theater spaces begin to equal the number of tattoo parlors and wig places, then it may have a chance."

Rick Rodrigo, who owns O2 Elements, leases seven studios (all currently filled) to artists above his gallery, café and oxygen bar. He says his decision to show art "had nothing to do with the designation of a downtown arts district; I just knew I wanted to promote local artists as part of my business. Our coming along at the same time DAD was starting up is purely coincidental." In fact, Rodrigo says he has "never even been approached by the city" despite his attempts to become involved. Early this summer, he tried to host a forum with area artists and city officials. "We invited Brenda Robinson and others from the mayor's office to come. We had a good turnout of artists, but no one from City Hall showed up or even called to thank us for the invitation.

"If this is an arts district, it doesn't feel like it yet," he says exasperatedly. "It would help if we could define this downtown area as something more than a drinking place. The city at least could help with the promotion. Artists are a fragmented group of right-brain thinkers, not particularly adept at self promotion."

Rodrigo is disappointed by how few pieces his artists have sold, other than "those who had strong followings before they came downtown." Part of the problem, he says, is that the door to his second-floor studios cannot be left open for the public to enter. "Homeless people tend to sleep in the entryway, and it's not safe for the artists who work upstairs, particularly if it's a lone woman."

The gallery in Rodrigo's downstairs bar has drawn excellent reviews from artists and critics alike for its superb lighting and for the quality of its shows. ("It's not easy finding fresh material," he says. "The same artists and same pieces keep showing up at different galleries.") Though only one painting sold, the house at 02 Elements was packed with more than 200 people for the opening of its "C Note" jazz-art exhibition last month. All the artwork had a musical theme, and musicians entertained the crowd.

"That's what a gallery like OVAL ought to do," suggests Chris Davison. "Offer shows with different themes and different styles of art -- like a folk-art exhibit one month, then a show that's all rendered technical. A publicly supported gallery needs standards, but it must be open to all kinds of expression. The city ought to hire a professional staff of people who are trained in art to administer its projects."

"We need more trained artists to study with, and more arts education," says Kristofer Porter. "Personally, I'm looking to go elsewhere for inspiration. There are so few good, mature artists working in Orlando."

The scarcity of opportunities to study with experienced artists and the lack of post-graduate art education in Central Florida have the Fourth Floor Artists foreseeing a day when they will break up their collective and move away. "We're already losing friends our age to New York and other big cities," complains Karen Berneman.

"Yeah, I may even go back to my hometown of Providence," says Porter. "There's a lot going on up there. But, if Orlando gets its act together and starts providing better incentives for artists who live and work here, some of us may come back one day."

Perhaps the downtown arts district in Orlando is too large and spread out ever to achieve the look and feel of an artist's colony. It can be a hefty hike past such artless sights as boarded-up buildings, street kids and homeless people to get from the Avalon Gallery to 02 Elements to the lobby gallery at City Hall. Already 20 square blocks, DAD's size will triple in the city's planned "Phase B." The official "cultural corridor" stretches even farther, incorporating existing museums and performance halls from downtown all the way to the Orlando Museum of Art and Loch Haven Park.

In such cities as Providence and Baltimore, the lines are being drawn much more narrowly -- and much more successfully.

"To flourish, an arts district needs to provide a neighborhood flavor of art to the public as well as demonstrating that it is 'artist friendly,' " says Diana DeCesaris, the director of Providence's Center City Contemporary Arts program.

The Rhode Island city succeeds at both. Its "downcity" (rather than downtown) Arts & Entertainment District is only 10 square blocks, and the entire area shows the results of careful planning as well as hard lobbying by city officials. Five years ago, the old downtown was dying. Today most of the abandoned stores are occupied by galleries (about 40 new ones at last count), bistros and upscale retail shops. Hotel occupancy rates have risen to 92 percent. Decaying office buildings are being converted to residences, many subsidized for artists' quarters. Most important, the city is offering a wide range of financial incentives to make its arts district work.

The man credited for the city's cultural revival is its mayor, Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, who took his cause to state legislators in 1996, persevering even in the face of a gubernatorial veto. What Cianci's crusade accomplished would make Orlando's oversized salamanders stick out their raspy tongues and salivate.

For shoppers, art purchases are exempt from sales tax.

For developers, there is a break on property taxes for creating new studios and living quarters for artists. The value of arts-related improvements to property are not taxed at all during the first 10 years.

For artists who set up shop in the district, there are reductions in income and business taxes as well as increased opportunities to reach potential buyers. Not to mention expanded opportunities to live where they create. At least seven buildings have been or are being renovated into housing and/or loft studios for artists. In an effort to keep rents affordable, building owners can lose their annual tax credits if their tenant mix does not continue to include a significant percentage of artists, who themselves must register with the city as "artists-in-residence" to receive their tax breaks. Many of the new lofts have qualified for city subsidies for residents who earn less than $16,800 a year.

Locals and "cultural tourists" alike are taking advantage of several new theaters, including the city-supported Trinity Repertory Company, which occupies a restored 1911 burlesque house. On monthly "gallery nights," Providence provides a free trolley (with guided tour) to shuttle visitors from shops to studios to restaurants.

Asked about Providence's accomplishments, Orlando's arts czar Brenda Robinson said she was not aware of them -- though she had heard about its series of "Waterfire" spectacles, in which the local riverfront is set ablaze with floating torches during summer concerts. The events, also an idea of Mayor Cianci, draw as many as 50,000 people downtown on a typical weekend evening.

Officials in Baltimore have closely followed Providence's story -- and now, its lead. The Maryland city's mayor, Martin O'Malley, went to his state's legislature earlier this year to campaign personally for a bill similar to that passed in Rhode Island. The state legislature decided to allow all of its cities to create official arts districts with incentives that include and go even farther than those in Providence. In Maryland, businesses that locate in designated arts districts will be exempt from charging entertainment taxes. Legislators also agreed to pump additional money into the state's economic development program to finance capital projects for newly created arts districts.

Already, Baltimore is picking the boundaries for an arts district. "It will be an area that has character and great potential, but needs revitalization," O'Malley has said. Other Maryland communities from Bethesda to Bowie plan to establish arts districts soon.

Providence's Cianci has cautioned other cities emulating his lead that the designation of an arts district itself "is not enough to spark a renaissance. It requires the personal involvement of elected officials."

Which brings us back to Orlando.

Richard Valentino, an OVAL member who works in a management group associated with the Osceola Center for the Arts, puts it bluntly: "Copycat Band-Aid art projects like LizArt do not reinforce the genuine art interest in the community -- only lessen the guilt of the city politicians for not developing a long-term goal or artistic identity."

The Hood administration's first attempt to designate an arts district amounted to little more than putting up signs near a handful of galleries that had sprouted along Alden Road east of North Orange Avenue near Lake Ivanhoe. The mayor even came by to cut a ribbon. But after the tenants hosted their first arts festival, no one in the city administration had a clue what to do when landlords started forcing artists out, citing "problem tenants" and a "hotter real estate market." Of course, the real problem was that the improvements those tenants had made to the warehouse district showed landlords they could charge higher rents. That, and the likelihood the neighborhood's proximity to Florida Hospital might bring in big-bucks offers from medical offices.

Of the Alden fiasco, OVAL's Terry Hummel says he warned Brenda Robinson, "Either grow the balls and do what you need to zone the district for artists' use, or sneak over and pull your signs." City Hall opted for the latter.

Hummel worries the city is not doing enough to prevent the same thing from happening in the downtown district. "The first map for DAD showed Magnolia [Avenue] as the center, not Orange. I said, 'It's all lawyers' offices. Where will you put the galleries, the theaters? Where will artists be able to find studios? The lawyers aren't going to give up their buildings.' "

He and numerous other artists have urged the city to make sure that -- as they prepare to expand DAD -- they not only find ways to keep rents reasonable but also to create affordable housing. Tom Kohler, the director of Orlando's Downtown Development Board, agrees there is a need for city-subsidized artists' housing and has suggested that living quarters could be created over shops and restaurants -- even atop parking garages.

But, like many of the folks who stop by art galleries or attend openings, city officials are currently "just looking" at ways to proceed.

Is there a master plan for DAD? Robinson points to a five-year capital plan with a goal of raising $3 million from private donors. But there have been no new city contributions to DAD ("maybe something to announce soon," she notes). Neither are there specific plans as to how the private money raised should be prioritized for use. Not wanting to put the cart in front of the horse, the DAD Commission -- whose members include major donors (some artists don't like the idea that businesses "can buy a seat") as well as representatives of the Theatre Alliance, OVAL and city government -- will determine how to spend the money "as it comes in," says Robinson.

The only problem with that plan is that it's no plan. There is not yet a strategy to address such an issue as artist housing or how to bring better retail into DAD's perimeters -- something artists say is vital to drawing serious art buyers. There is no campaign for specific economic incentives beyond the recently announced matching grants for developers. There is not even a plan for balancing the various needs of a community devoted to art: the importance of locally created works versus those by outside artists, opportunities for hands-on art experiences for children and art as adult therapy, the role of performance art versus painting and sculpture -- and what percent of monies will go to which.

Hummel, who sits on the DAD Commission, says the city should "financially assist and provide promotion" for all those kinds of art projects downtown: "I would support 10 more groups like OVAL. We're not even that good. Plus, we need theaters. The Youth Theatre space is not a final answer to our need to support local companies because [the location] is likely to become the site of the chi-chi, pooh-pooh symphony and ballet house -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

"We need someone in Brenda's job, or Brenda, to lobby for our needs -- and to encourage artists from all over the area to come on down and join us," he adds. "Brenda is a good friend, but she is very highly paid for on-the-job training."

"I'm dancing as fast as I can," Robinson says. "I only have one assistant and an intern. Why, Cincinnati had 13 people working on its pigs (that city's version of the LizArt project). It has taken Pittsburgh almost a decade to make their arts district successful. This is just our beginning."

So it's Take 2 -- or, is that Take 3? -- for Orlando's urban arts district this fall. The season kicks off on Saturday, Oct. 13, with the return of the monthly outdoor Arts Market to Wall Street Plaza. That's about the same date projected for the opening of the Youth Theatre, which will be available for productions by other local troupes as well.

The following week, Oct. 18, will mark the first official "Third Thursdays" event, or neighborhood art crawl. O2 Elements and the Gallery at Avalon Island will launch new exhibits, as will OVAL. (Of course, they all have had third-Thursday openings this summer, too.) Numerous downtown restaurants and bars will present art on their walls (as they do every day), and a mixed-media show of some kind (details forthcoming) is being planned at the downtown nightclub Sapphire. The Orange County Regional History Museum will be open with a series of fresh exhibits, as will galleries in City Hall and the new Grand Bohemian Hotel. Many people will drink champagne, and maybe the mayor will cut a ribbon ...

"There is so much planned for October," says Brenda Robinson. "Everybody is so excited."

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