Best Design Team 2005 | Tim Bennett and Thomas Salzman for Take Me Out | Bestarts | South Florida
Bennett's impressive baseball-themed design on the Caldwell Theatre stage featured locker room and shower interiors, framed by a baseball scoreboard and a massive green outfield wall. Salzman's expert, evocative lighting, using pools of light and streaks of color, was equally memorable, with several scenes resembling classic sculpture. The result was stagecraft excellence.

Sometimes great gifts come in small packages. Set during the Civil War, Robert Linfors' brief playlet packed a real punch, examining the anguish and fear of parents whose fired-up young son is ready to enlist in the Confederate army. Linfors' timeless dramatic dilemma clearly resonated in today's wartime environment, and City's fine cast, featuring Elizabeth Dimon as the grieving mother, made a lasting impression.

Let's say you have a hankering to look at hats. Or handbags. Or vintage lunchboxes. And let's say you're interested in such paraphernalia not as a consumer but as a pop-culture connoisseur in search of some context. Where do you turn? Not to the nearest mall, certainly. No, your best bet is a visit to the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History, which is housed, fittingly, in a 1960s storefront that was once a five-and-ten-cent store. The museum, which has its origins in a 1999-2000 sleeper exhibition of Barbie dolls at the nearby Cornell Museum, has presented shows focusing on African-American sacred music, the relocation of American Indian tribes, magazine covers with patriotic themes, and the Mohawk ironworkers who helped construct New York City's skyscrapers. It probably remains best-known, however, for 2003-04's landmark Hats, Handbags & Gloves: From Past to Present, one of the quirkiest exhibitions ever to grace a South Florida museum. Next up: Fore: The Love of the Game: Golf from the 17th Century to the Millennium. Can things get much kinkier?

Even in its infancy, crammed into a tiny space on Clematis Street in West Palm, Dramaworks has always demonstrated a fidelity to quality and integrity. Now in its fourth season, the company is enjoying a new theater space and a string of superior productions. What makes the 'works work? For starters, this company doesn't talk down to its audiences; it challenges them with rarely produced classics by Sartre, Albee, and other giants. And then there's the fine array of talent, featuring some of our area's top actors and designers.

For more than two years, 20-somethings Yvonne Colón and her curly-haired partner, Garo Gallo, have been developing the local arts community, one rock show at a time. It was back in '02 that Colón first solicited her folks for the seed money to start BTW; since that time, she and Gallo have become the advance team -- a sort of hipster infantry -- that brings art, music, and culture to places previously renowned for lingerie shows and dollar beers. They began promoting local bands at the Fort Lauderdale Saloon, giving the ailing bar and music scene a much-needed shot in the arm, and continued with forays into Broward's less-than-glamorous underbelly. The Las Olas Art Center, the Salt Box, and venerable titty bar Gum Wrappers have all benefited from their insight and effort. As of this writing, the promotion duo continue trailblazing with their latest venture at Karma on Riverwalk, hoping to revive a once-thriving dance club as a live music mecca. You gotta wish them luck -- the harder they work, the better the scene for all of us.

Before April of last year, the Fort Lauderdale Saloon was just another cinder-block and plywood rat trap on Federal Highway. Sure, the place had charm (and a laundry machine), but it was of the "let's go slumming" variety, hardly a draw to anyone other than aging drinkers and long-time regulars. Then during spring and summer of last year, a tiny but significant renaissance occurred. Affable owner Walter Ciuffini partnered with local promoters By the Way to bring favorite local acts into the joint -- bands like AC Cobra, Humbert, and Southern Flaw. Soon, it became clear to all that good shows bring hip folks, and hip folks drink a lot of beer. Eureka -- there's money in that there music! BTW has moved on, but Rock Bottom Hip-Hop Nights have taken its place on a nearly weekly basis. Now Friday nights mean breaking b-boys, graffiti in the parking lot, and rappers from all over South Florida strutting their stuff. All this killer music, and the Saloon still offers cheap beer and chicken nuggets. Now that's true South Florida culture.

When the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art closed its doors for the last time in late March, it was the end of a noble experiment that lasted five years. PBICA, as it was known in the alphabet-soup art world, had been a work of love, not to mention considerable cash, for South Florida arts patrons Robert and Mary Montgomery. The lovely old Art Deco movie theater in downtown Lake Worth that was PBICA's home had been a museum before, when it held the collection of J. Patrick Lannan in the 1980s, then again in the 1990s after the Lannan Foundation turned it over to Palm Beach Community College. The Montgomerys, who bought the building from the school, hoped that other support for the museum would materialize once they got it up and running. They were wrong, unfortunately. During its brief, shining moment, however, PBICA presented exhibitions that attracted national attention, including its inaugural venture, "Making Time: Considering Time as a Material in Contemporary Film and Video." Other highlights included the exuberant group show "Brooklyn!" and "The Smiths: Tony, Kiki, Seton," which brought together for the first time the works of three prominent artists from the same family. At least the museum went out with a bang: Its final exhibition, "I Feel Mysterious Today," was a multimedia extravaganza every bit as exciting as its first.

The next time someone you know whines about how lackluster the South Florida art world is, give 'em a good smack and recite the list of artists who have had solo shows here in the past year alone. It includes established giants (Andrew Wyeth at the Boca Museum, Robert Rauschenberg at the Miami Art Museum, Louise Nevelson and Joan Miró at Hollywood's Art and Culture Center) and lesser names of exceptional promise (Michael Joo at the Palm Beach Institute, Zhang Huan at the Norton, Ignacio Iturria at the Boca Museum). They're all outshone, however, by "Louise Bourgeois: Stitches in Time," which enjoyed an all-too-brief run at the Museum of Contemporary Art. While not exactly a career retrospective for Bourgeois, who at 94 is still active, the exhibition was an outstanding look at an artist whose vast output has come to be seen as more and more important over the past quarter of a century. "Stitches in Time" was a landmark show for a landmark artist.

Art exhibitions with a gimmick run the risk of being too... well, gimmicky. Which is why "Birdspace: A Post-Audubon Artists' Aviary," last summer at the Norton, was especially amazing. For one thing, it was a large show that included more than 70 works by 50 artists. For another, it paid homage to an artist of great historical importance, the peerless John James Audubon. The art was limited to works connected in some way to our fine feathered friends, but beyond that, anything was fair game. And while most of the artists were Americans born in the mid-20th Century, their art was all over the map. A few stuck to fairly traditional media; others pushed boundaries and political hot buttons. Despite all these things, or maybe even because of them, it was an enormously satisfying exhibition in which an array of often fascinating parts added up to an even greater whole.

Sometimes, if you come from New York, Boston, San Francisco, Bogotá, or Buenos Aires, it seems that South Florida is a cultural wasteland. But then you visit the Norton. It's a beautiful piece of property located a stone's throw from the Intracoastal Waterway. There, you can immerse yourself in the work of Duane Hansen, Jose Bédia, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollack, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, and Paul Klee, among others. Indeed, the permanent collection includes more than 5,000 pieces. Founded in 1941 by an industrialist named Ralph Hubbard Norton, the Art Deco/neoclassical gem has grown like crazy in the past 12 years. It doubled in size in 1993, then added a wing in 2003 that included 14 new galleries -- and almost doubled the gallery space again. It is, in our view, the one place in this overcrowded subtropical morass where you can lose yourself in the great thoughts of great thinkers. You say you live in Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood or Boca Raton and you've never been there? Well, dumbbell, go! Maybe jump on the TriRail and pack a bag lunch. It'll be a trip you will never, ever regret, no matter how many times you do it. During the summer, the Norton is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $8 for adults.

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