BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THE LOCAL ARTS SCENE, MAYBE I SHOULDN'T BE.
Thanks a lot, Paul McCartney, for interrupting my class. No, seriously: thanks. I appreciate it. I’d be a fool not to.
One Thursday afternoon last semester, I walked into room 118 of Orlando Hall to teach a writing class at Rollins College, where I’m an adjunct instructor. I was immediately surrounded by several students who said they needed to leave early because they had an appointment to keep with Sir Paul.
I’ve been teaching college students long enough not only to be skeptical of excuses, but to assume that by now I’ve heard them all. I was mistaken. This was a new one. Come to find out, it was also legit.
McCartney, who has a stepson at Rollins and occasionally darts in and out of town, had agreed to quietly slip into campus for a low-key appearance: a talk about his songwriting artistry with Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003 and now a senior distinguished fellow at the Winter Park Institute, which is affiliated with the college.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Winter Park is one of those places where that sort of thing can sneak up on you. One of my first experiences after moving here in the mid-’80s was being led by a friend down a narrow street off Park Avenue to a former gas station that didn’t look like much from the outside but glowed like a treasure chest once I stepped inside.
It was, oh, just a cozy little mom-and-pop museum, filled with the world’s grandest collection of priceless Tiffany stained-glass windows, lamps and artifacts — the predecessor, thanks to the efforts of Hugh McKean and Jeannette Genius McKean, of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.
Art and artists tend to find their way to this place. So do the people who appreciate them. It’s all part of the civic DNA. That’s why I wanted to write this column, which will provide an ongoing, insider’s glimpse into the growing bounty of visual and performing arts that exists not just in Winter Park but throughout Central Florida.
I may have been surprised by McCartney’s appearance. (Here, by the way, is a link to a video of his talk: 360.rollins.edu/arts-and-culture/video-paul-mccartney-sings-blackbird-live). But I wasn’t all that shocked by a recent study, conducted by Movoto, a national real estate company, that ranked Orlando as the second most creative city in the United States, tied with Portland (San Francisco came in first).
The study used a range of criteria to make the call, including the number of colleges, universities, galleries and art schools, and the population of people employed in art, entertainment and recreation.
Yes, the theme parks skew those numbers, but that’s no excuse to dismiss the area as a middlebrow enclave. There’s a sea change underway. We still have quite a long way to go before we can rival a first-tier city for cultural resources, but the arts that are available to us are becoming far more broad-ranging and sophisticated.
The new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts has something to do with that, but it’s not the whole story. I’ll give you just one example for now.
Collaborative efforts between cultural organizations are a healthy sign. It’s a wise usage of resources and evidence of artsy egos in check, not to mention the payoff for the community. All of that was in evidence when the Winter Park Institute collaborated with the Orlando Museum of Art to stage a lecture by landscape architect and sculptor Maya Lin earlier this year.
The institute brings artists, philosophers, scientists and world-class civic leaders to town for free lectures, usually at Rollins. This time around, it was arranged for Lin to speak at OMA as part of the opening of an extraordinary exhibit devoted to an endangered natural resource: Water.
The exhibit, which will remain at the museum until May 10, includes sculptures that depict waterways on the verge of disappearing: hence the subtle, sobering title — A History of Water.
It’s a groundbreaking, original display — confrontational, transformational, even mystical in scope. Lin is a globally recognized artist. This is not just another a collection of pretty little paintings. If you see it, you’ll never look at a seashore, lake or river the same way again.
Its presence at the museum represents a much more progressive direction for OMA, under the tutelage of its new director, Glen Gentele.
That gives you just a glimmer of the sea change I speak of. Stick around. I simply ran out of room. There’s plenty more where that came from.
Michael McLeod is an educator, freelance writer and Winter Park Magazine editor at large who specializes in covering the arts. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.