"It's easy to get sucked into Peggyworld and follow her in an almost cult-like way," says one student's review of the beloved Florida International University photography professor on RateMyProfessors.com. Represented by the Dina Mitrani Gallery in Miami, 70-year-old photographer and instructor Peggy Levinson Nolan makes her home in Hollywood, where she continues to capture the mystical in the mundane in her delicately rendered images. After discovering photography fairly late in life, the mostly self-taught Nolan received her BFA and MFA from FIU and has been a full-time staff member of the art department there for more than ten years. A proponent of film photography, Nolan inspires her students to hone and honor the craft of film while continuing to garner recognition herself for her photographs, which turn everyday subjects and settings — her children, the kitchen sink, a candid moment in bed or in the bath — into transcendent, even magical glimpses of life. Nolan's work is collected by major institutions like New York's Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, MOCA, Norton Museum of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Light Work Permanent Collection, and the Martin Z. Margulies Collection. She was selected for Light Work's artist-in-residence program in 2005 and twice won the South Florida Consortium Individual Artist Grant in 2004 and 1994. Apart from her natural talent as a photographer and teacher, Nolan has a personality and passion for life that leave all who encounter her wanting more. Joke or not, a student-made fan website titled Peggy Nolan's Gentleman Callers is a testament to her infectious popularity.

Young at Art Museum
Monica McGivern

Young at Art's new permanent facility, which opened in 2012, embodies both the wise maturity of a teacher and the playfulness of a child with crayons. The 55,000-square-foot interactive museum offers a fun and stimulating environment for field trips and birthday parties and also eight-week classes, like "Digital Cartooning," "Darkroom and Digital Photo," "Drawing and Painting," and "Adult Mixed Media," for children, teens, and adults. Musically inclined teens can work in a recording studio, kindergartners can crawl through a four-dimensional replica of The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, and everyone can discover a thing or two about the connection between art and ecology. Of the myriad virtues of Young at Art Museum, perhaps the most essential is its potential to bring the same eternally youthful glow of inspiration to faces of all ages.

The Classic Gateway Theatre

When you're hankering to go to the movies but don't want to deal with everything that sucks with going to the movies — cost, kids hollering, cell phones ringing — go to the Classic Gateway Theatre. In an era of iPhones and Netflix, this historic theater is delightfully vintage. It opened in 1951, and in many ways it feels like you've traveled back to that time upon arrival. Even better, its prices match that aesthetic. On Tuesdays, Gateway charges only $7 for any movie. Seven dollars! As one of the few remaining places that still show independent films, it will bring you flicks that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else. That smell? It's charm!

The now-familiar parade of skeletons marching down Andrews Avenue the first weekend in November reached record numbers last year, as hundreds of puppet-bearing, costumed guests joined mariachi musicians for a processional celebrating Day of the Dead, Mexico's annual celebration of passed loved ones. In all, more than 6,700 people attended the daylong festivities, which included live music and theater, a "Craft Crypt" of local art for sale, the staggering "Nocturne" exhibition of spooky art, and more macabre costumes than a Tim Burton set. But for the Puppet Network's Jim Hammond, who created the festival, the simplest gestures touched him the most, like the ofrenda (a Spanish altar) dedicated to his recently deceased dog, Joplin. He described the tribute as "cut[ting] to the core of what our Day of the Dead celebration is and shall always be." Since the fest ended, there's been no rest for the weary, with Hammond already planning the 2013 edition. New offerings will include a late-night kayak procession, an outdoor venue for traditional dance and music, live re-creations of Frida Kahlo self-portraits, and an elegant black-tie-and-top-hat skeleton affair.

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.

Downtown Hollywood

"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.

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