Best Visual Artist 2010 | Alfred Phillips | People & Places | South Florida
The most amazing thing about Alfred Phillips is not that he has won at least eight Best in Show awards since moving to South Florida in late 2003, although that's pretty impressive. Nor is it that his cartoon of George W. Bush being sodomized by an Arab sheik landed him on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart a year later, although that's impressive too. (The image was for the Broward Art Guild's "Controversy" show.) No, the most amazing thing is that the artist didn't even begin painting until seven years ago. Before that, he worked in the ad business for three decades, first at agencies, then at his own graphic design firm, so it's not like he started from scratch. Still, the prolific Phillips has made the most of the past seven years, holing up in his studio at the Tarpon River Art Centre near downtown Fort Lauderdale and turning out painting after remarkable painting that demonstrate virtuoso technique and a broad mastery of styles and subject matter. He's highly competitive and enters lots of shows, hence the awards, but he's also supportive of fellow artists, showing up at their openings and offering encouragement and advice, such as this tidbit that surfaced in an interview a few years ago: "If you don't live and breathe it, don't even start. You have to be dedicated and willing to work hard. There is a glamorous side to art, but the work comes first." Strong words, but Phillips doesn't just talk the talk; he walks the walk.
Panagioti Tsolkas has his fingers in so many pies, it's a wonder he hasn't keeled over from diabetic shock. Tsolkas, who says he got his first taste of political activism in tenth grade, when he and fellow students stood on tables in a "spontaneous refusal" to continue taking the FCAT, has become an expert in the decade since at staging much taller stunts. He likes being up in the air: Acting with the Lake Worth Global Justice Group in 2004, Tsolkas mounted a giant tripod on Dixie Highway to protest a luxury condo being built in downtown Lake Worth. In 2009, he led an affinity group protest from the roof of a building on Dixie Highway and Banyan Boulevard in West Palm, where he hung a banner decrying FPL's plans for expansion into prized wetlands. Last year, he helped organize an action against FPL's West County Energy Center construction site that involved 25 activists tying themselves together to blockade Palm Beach Aggregates' rock mining operation. Tsolkas did 14 days jail time for his trouble (he still has more to serve). Now, Tsolkas is involved in a campaign to pass Slow Growth Amendment 4; he runs the Night Heron Grassroots Activist Center in Lake Worth, hosting lectures, art shows, classes, and afternoon tutoring sessions for kids; he plays key roles in the PBC Environmental Coalition, Everglades Earth First!, and the Green Party, with which he recently cowrote a green paper on Florida energy policy. How he found time this year to tangle with his Lake Worth Neighborhood Association, Tropical Ridge, is a mystery. But he managed to prod it into a new level of professional conduct: The association has a new set of bylaws and rules governing elections now, along with a renewed sense of the demographic it serves — association members had to shift their seats slightly left to make room for the radicals.
For lease: 40,000 square feet of newly available luxury office space in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Equipped with high-tech security system, glass-walled executive corridor, and a secret elevator — great for those stressful afternoons when you just want to sneak away... to Morocco. There's ample parking for a fleet of luxury cars. Never mind that the entire building is named after the largest bank in the country amid an era of mass theft on the part of America's financial institutions. Never mind that the 16th floor was the office of the biggest fraudster in South Florida's history or that the walls of Scott Rothstein's inner sanctum were decorated with the same stolen funds that provided his jets and yachts and the Rolls-Royces that picked him up downstairs like the modern-day robber baron he is. Never mind that the posh accouterments epitomize the disgusting lust for wealth that has crippled this once-great nation, infecting every aspect of American life like a festering bacteria from which we may never recover. Never mind the heartbreak and rage caused by the evil perpetrated here or the injustices inflicted upon thousands of trusting individuals. The view of the ocean is to die for. Ponzi schemers need not apply.
During any other period in South Florida history, Sean Healy would have been a legendary crook. A big Ponzi schemer, Healy had the misfortune of being in a pond with much bigger Ponzi fish. He didn't swindle nearly as much as Palm Beach County's Bernie Madoff. Nor did Healy have the high-flying political friends of Scott Rothstein. But there was an elegant simplicity to Healy's scheme: The Weston businessman asked investors for their money; then he bought stuff with it. Although he was 39 when he got busted, Healy had a 15-year-old's taste in luxury goods. Rap-star bling. A trophy wife from Hooters. An automotive fleet that included a stretch limo, a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, two Porsches, and a Hummer golf cart. Toilets that operated by motion sensor. Statues of superheroes that stood seven feet tall. All told, a Pennsylvania court found Healy guilty of spending nearly $20 million in investor money, for which he was sentenced to 16 years in jail.
In this recession era of belt-tightening, nothing sounds sweeter than the word free. The new West Palm Beach Public Library, barely a year old, has taken its mission of providing free services to heart, so much that books seem almost an afterthought. On Saturday mornings, hordes of people ride the elevators to the third floor, where sunshine pours through generous windows to illuminate gleaming hardwood floors. In a carpeted auditorium, a free yoga class is taught cheerfully to children and gray-haired yogis alike. Other days, one can find free Pilates and tai chi classes and perhaps an Argentine tango performance. Here, seniors or the otherwise technologically impaired can learn to navigate Craigslist and PowerPoint — hell, even Wii Bowling! So go to the library, and take your Bubbe with you. She will be so proud.
Rising Action was homeless not long ago, mounting its productions in front of the big screen at the woefully ill-equipped Cinema Paradiso. It wasn't an arrangement that could last, and it didn't. For three seasons, Rising Action has made its home in a charming space at the edge of Wilton Manors; it's a place full of blond wood and cheer. It's a simple space but charmingly appointed: Cool art-for-sale hangs on one wall, and somebody in the rear is always serving up mimosas or wine. The real draw of the place, though, is the vibe: Something in the air seems to naturally invite conversation, and before every show, the audience is full of people chatting theater with perfect strangers. It's a good, communal, unpretentious kind of thing, and all theaters would benefit from having a bit of it.
William "Cobra" Staubs has a bouncer's build, with a ponytail, snakeskin cowboy boots, and a gold chain around his neck. His hands are enormous catcher's mitts, and he carries a towel to wipe the sweat from his face. "I'm a hillbilly," he admits. "You got to be crazy to do this shit." The Fort Lauderdale-based private eye should know. He made headlines for secretly trailing Tony Masilotti, looking for a whiff of the corrupt land deals that eventually sent the former Palm Beach County commissioner to prison. He chased down a fugitive drug dealer who was making bombs and hiding out near military bases. And he nearly sabotaged his career by searching for Haleigh Cummings, a 5-year-old who disappeared from her North Florida trailer home more than a year ago. After three decades in the business, it's tough to say just how successful Cobra has been. But one thing is certain, says his friend Jeff Poole, a Broward County sheriff's deputy: "He's after you, you're almost guaranteed to get caught."
Beverly Gallagher began her career in politics as the big-time PTA mom, that most wholesome if at times terribly annoying position. Then she was swooped up by lobbyists Neil Sterling and Barbara Miller, who took her under their wings and helped her win election to the Broward County School Board. Perhaps her fate was sealed right then and there. Sterling helped get her a job at the Community Blood Center even as she was steering projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars to his construction clients. Then she fell into an FBI sting and, in an image that will haunt (and entertain) Broward for years, she took illicit cash from an agent at a restaurant and stuffed it into her doggy bag. She ultimately pleaded guilty and will be going to federal prison for a few years. You can bet that Gallagher didn't join the PTA with the goal of one day taking bribes over lunch, but that's the way it worked out. And unfortunately for us, it says more about the culture of corruption at the School Board than it does about Gallagher herself.
If you embark on a journey through Deerfield Beach's political jungle, you will arrive eventually at what appears a savage habitation, where the corpses of the city's past political rulers hang from trees like trophies. This is, a domain ruled by a man whose myth strikes dread into the hearts of his enemies. They never see Chaz Stevens, but he sees them. His methods may sometimes be unsound — Stevens taunts his political targets for months, even years, before going in for the kill. But there's no doubting his effectiveness. In 2008, Stevens alerted prosecutors to corruption by Mayor Al Capellini and Commissioner Steve Gonot, both of whom were subsequently indicted and forced to resign. Both now face felony trials. In that endeavor, Stevens relied on Bob Norman's reporting in New Times, but this past year, Stevens has earned a much larger portion of the muckraking credit, having investigated a slew of nonprofit agencies that were loosely linked to Commissioner Sylvia Poitier, the former Broward County commissioner with a political career that spans three decades. Stevens has always had contempt for Poitier, whose photograph he once posted next to a shot of Jabba the Hut, noting the resemblance. But Stevens' investigation into Poitier's business dealings played a prominent role in convincing city commissioners that City Manager Mike Mahaney was not monitoring city spending as closely as he should have. In January, Mahaney was dismissed. Then an investigation by the new city manager, Burgess Hanson, into the city's Community Housing Division led straight to Poitier.
South Florida is the Wild, Wild West — in the East. You can't turn around without bumping into a crooked cop, a corrupt minister, an embezzler, or a child molester. Probably, that's because the daily newspapers have decided to essentially cease covering politics and crime in favor of school bake sales and spelling bees. Or maybe it's because we're in a region dominated by transients, with no interest in nor spiritual ties to our subtropical paradise. Regardless, nobody much cares about the doings of the region's pols, profiteers, and power junkies. And what's in it for you? In Florida, more than any other state in this great nation, you can get away with anything.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of