Puerto Rican-born, South Florida-based artist Misael Soto uses performative and participatory experiences to investigate the "accidental, ephemeral, and transcendental." Subversive in nature, his work often forces those who encounter it to confront their comfort zones and then step out of them. This past year, Soto travelled up and down the East Coast with his "Beach Towel" installation, a 56-by-29-foot, custom-made, terry-cloth towel, inviting strangers to come onboard and share the real estate. Memorial Day's unfurling of the towel in Miami Beach included free food and sunscreen and performances from local bands that played their music for the community of transient towel dwellers. The result of the ten-stop towel tour, which made it all the way up to Rockaway Beach in Queens, was a social experiment that created connections as physical proximity, with the addition of the shared experience of the towel, translated to unexpected intimacy among strangers. Soto's other works challenge social norms and help inspire spontaneous, joyous chaos. "Would you like to dance with me? (Young hearts be free tonight)" highlighted the opportunity for human connection that exists in the everyday by inviting patrons at Ricochet Bar in Miami to dance together within a small, subtle white box as part of Locust Projects' One Night Stands series. At 18 Rabbit Gallery in Fort Lauderdale, a sign in front of Soto asked visitors, "What would you like me to sing for you?" The artist offered acapella versions of his entire iPod selection, singing along with visitors' requests with headphones on, giving each song his honest best, and making a lot of people laugh while doing it.

Bedlam Lorenz Assembly is the perfect example of what happens when South Florida produces motivated, artistically inclined talents and they don't jump ship for New York or L.A. Composed of seven young movers and shakers in the art scene, the BLA first came together to help raise funds for the new Young at Art Museum in Davie. In the beginning, they promoted pop-up events in places like Fort Lauderdale's up-and-coming FAT Village arts district, and now the group helps steer some of YAA's programming, organizing events, artist workshops, and exhibitions. Together, BLA chair Zack Spechler, cochair Ali Spechler, art director and curator Rory Carracino, designer Ben Morey, project managers Anthony Delgreco and Andrea Trejo, and photographer Tara Penick have already produced three group exhibitions since 2011, including two that had auctions as fundraising components. They've also organized six artist lectures and workshops this past March that were open to the public with regular museum admission. In short, Bedlam Lorenz Assembly functions like the awesome teenaged sibling who has an ear to the ground, scouting contemporary art, street art, and interactive and hands-on projects, then figuring out how to creatively present and reinterpret it for kids or use it to raise money for the museum. By staying in South Florida and focusing their creative talents, the Bedlam Lorenz Assembly is helping to curate a more robust and exciting local art scene for the future.

"I would be tickled pink if someone compared us to Wynwood," says Jill Weisberg, curator and project manager of the flourishing Downtown Hollywood Mural Project. She's referring to a comment made by Hollywood City Commissioner Patricia Asseff this past May regarding the area's new, edgier urban look since the mural project began last August. While downtown Hollywood and Miami's booming arts district, Wynwood, are worlds apart in several respects, Weisberg hopes that the work being done for the mural project will help bring Hollywood's smaller but lively arts scene and surrounding businesses the visibility and raw energy that Miami's revitalized Wynwood area has witnessed over the past couple of years. With murals by prominent local artists David "Lebo" LeBatard, Jessy Nite, Luis Pinto, Edward Mendieta, Ruben Ubiera, 2alas, and Evoca1 already adorning some of the area's most prominent building façades and two new murals by Michelle Weinberg and Tati Suarez on the way, the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project is adding color and character to the charming downtown area. Providing artists a larger-than-life platform for their work, inspiring the local community to come together during live wall paintings during the third-Saturday art walks, and injecting new life into local businesses, downtown Hollywood is leading the way for public art in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Set designer Michael Amico won a well-deserved Carbonell Award this year for his contribution to Dramaworks' Talley's Folly. For its two performers, the play was a Herculean exercise in memorization, with actor Brian Wallace opening the show with a stunning, four-minute-plus, motor-mouthed monologue. But it was hard to pay too much attention to his words when there was such a beautifully busy structure catching your gaze behind him, an elegantly designed boathouse interior captured down to the smallest, most nostalgic details. The mossy edifice, with its rickety wooden boards, hole-punctured boat hulls, and assemblage of memories stored in crates and barrels, served as the visual gateway to the two characters' complicated pasts and the trigger for their reconciled future. Previous sets of Talley's Folly, from other productions around the country, seemed to favor more space and less stuff ­— more room to breathe and less room to stumble about. But the hoarder's bounty of Amico's vision gave director J. Barry Lewis much to play around with and helped elevate this talky drama.

For its first full-length-play production, emerging Mizner Park company Outre chose a work that was both minimalist (in its cast and production requirements) and maximalist (in its broad thematic umbrella). A modern retelling of Homer's similarly named epic poem, An Iliad dramatized the narrative of the Trojan War through the eyes of a road-weary itinerant storyteller, played by Avi Hoffman. Slinging an occasional guitar and swilling the more-than-occasional guzzle of booze, Hoffman broke many a fourth wall while colloquially inhabiting Agamemnon, Achilles, Petroclus, Hermes, and the rest of them in an exhausting exercise running more than 90 minutes. Set designer Sean McClelland provided him with a morbid playground — a bombed-out, multitiered war zone that bridged the gap between battles past and present, which is the ultimate message behind the play's antiwar monologue. Stefanie Howard's lighting design proved equally instrumental in creating the show's electric atmosphere, and ditto for Danny Butler's soundscape, which merged ancient sword-and-sandals sound effects with present-day war reports. This may be remembered as Hoffman's finest hour, not to mention an artistic breakthrough for Outre; I dare say Homer has never been this engaging.

Here are five awesome things about Hollywood artist Harumi Abe:

5. An adjunct instructor at both Florida International University and Broward College, she also acts as gallery director at Rosemary Duffy Larson Gallery at Broward College. Abe is the kind of teacher and friend who generously shares her knowledge and opportunities with others. Her good curatorial eye helps keep the gallery looking good and the students creating quality work.

4. In 2008, Abe received the prestigious residency from the statewide South Florida Cultural Consortium for Visual and Media Artists for the county, which makes BroCo look way cool. This summer, a fellowship with the Everglades Artist in Residence Program will have her staying in the swamp with fellow (if you will) artist Naomi Fisher, dancer Ana Mendez, and others.

3. She's a superfun, warm Japanese gal whose energy would make a tomb feel like a place worth hanging out.

2. She's shown all around town at the finest Broward institutions, like Hollywood Art and Culture Center and Museum of Art|Fort Lauderdale, and her work is also part of the Girls' Club Collection.

1. Her paintings are dreamy. They visually expose that blurry state between sleep and waking and explore domestic spaces. Though she uses traditional materials, her work manages to be experimental, with colors that make you think of South Florida sunsets. They, like her work, are simply the best.

With all the petite pups in fashionable attire strolling down Las Olas Boulevard or having lunch at Mizner Park, you wouldn't think there was a homeless-animal crisis in South Florida — but there is. Each year, thousands of homeless pets are taken in by county animal-control agencies. Most are euthanized before finding a home. The Tri-County Humane Society takes in thousands of death-row pups and kitties and helps find them homes. Most recently, the 100 percent no-kill shelter rescued 50 Chihuahuas from a hoarding situation. Sick with upper respiratory infections and skin disease, each tiny pocket pet was treated by the shelter's veterinary staff. Only when they were deemed well, sometimes hundreds of dollars of care later, were they ready to be adopted. Tri-County Humane holds cocktail hours, auctions, and picnics — many of them dog-friendly — to raise funds to feed and house these pets. These small fundraisers create a sense of community, with many "alumni" making appearances and showing off their shiny coats and new "parents." Next time you're in the market for a fur baby, may we interest you in a "certified preowned" dog or cat — direct from Boca Raton, dahling?

Whether the case involved a feckless terrorist plot, a wrongly convicted man's quest for justice, or a wayward Norwegian biker trying to persuade a jury the CIA had set him up, Paula McMahon was there. Over any given year, this Ireland-born Sun Sentinel courts reporter enters hundreds of stories detailing the many zany antics of America's southernmost swamp. Her stories are always smart, well-written, and teeming with her keen sense of absurdity. What's more, in an industry of hubris and bombast, she lends a sense of decency and kindness. An adage of journalism is that to be a good reporter, you first must be a good person. Paula McMahon is both. And she makes good company during long jury deliberations, trust us.

The most erudite politician in our fair county is also the most important one. Under the guidance of Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, Broward County has an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent — substantially lower than the state and national averages. More than 13 million tourists are expected to deluge Broward County this year, which marks an increase of 1 million over last year. And while Seiler doesn't deserve credit for all of this, he leads the most dynamic and biggest city in the county. He also deserves major props for not making a mistake that has bedeviled other politicians: excessive ambition. There was a time when Seiler was considering a run at governor. This would have been a mistake — established state pols like Charlie Crist or Rick Scott would have pummeled him — and he wisely backed out. For now, it looks like Seiler's here to stay. And that's a good thing.

In 2006, Fane Lozman, a Marine pilot who became a millionaire after he invented and patented a financial trading software program, docked his houseboat in Riviera Beach, and the drama began. After he stood up for everyday boaters by blocking big developers from taking over the city marina, city officials retaliated. He was slapped with infractions for walking his ten-pound dog without a muzzle and for disobeying boating regulations. Then came serious vindictiveness. Riviera Beach, with help from U.S. marshals citing federal maritime law, seized and destroyed Lozman's floating home. Lozman wasn't going down like that. "I did not care how much of my personal time it would take or how much it would cost or how long it would take — I vowed that I would get justice," Lozman later explained. He waged a yearslong legal battle against the city, ultimately scoring a major victory in January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city and marshals had been wrong to seize his home by classifying it as a vessel. Wrote Justice Breyer, "Not every floating structure is a 'vessel.' To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not 'vessels.' " At presstime, Lozman was still looking to recoup the value of his home, his furniture, and his legal bills, but he swore he had more corrupt officials in his sights.

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