Residency is a four-part weekly journal entry brought to you by one of our favorite artists every month.
In her first week as April’s Artist Resident, Boston’s Emily Reo discusses “the magical swampland” of Florida, a state that shaped her love for art, collaboration and community.
Hi there, my name is Emily! I like to play music and take photos and see new places. My very favorite thing in the whole wide world is going on tour with my friends, and in the process I’ve met some incredible folks who have introduced me to their special communities. This month, I’d love to share with you some of my favorite places, as well as the people that make each location so wonderful and unique. And if you are proud of your community and want to expose what you’re doing to a supportive new friend, please get in touch! I’d love to come visit you sometime.
For the introduction to my Portals Residency, I thought it would be most appropriate to begin by talking about the place where I spent most of my life and learned about art, collaboration and community. That place would be the magical swampland of Florida.
Florida is an extremely unique place, vastly ignored by mainstream culture due to geographic location and equally vulnerable to stereotypes of a theme park wonderland. Florida also happens to be home to the largest population of genuine, creative individuals I’ve ever met. Whether or not this is a coincidence is subjective, but I believe the abundance of unadulterated creativity growing like weeds in the deeper-than-South is a circumstance of an existence secluded from a country that judges your worth without giving the proper time of day. Whatever the cause, the resulting outcry rapidly becoming audible from every region of Florida is something unprecedented. Never have I witnessed folks so eager to learn, work and share together, creating new standards of what can be achieved by doing-it-together (far surpassing any sort of output spawned by fleeting trends and exclusivity I witnessed during my two years living in Brooklyn).
Folks have been hard on Florida, chalking an entire state up to outdated cultural stereotypes while not even attempting to skim the surface of what actually exists (see: this embarrassing fuck-up by what I hope to be a former Vice employee). But not only are the good folks of Florida used to this kind of treatment, they’ve begun to realize how special their situation is and have joined in solidarity against ill-formed opinions and poorly researched judgements (see: this incredibly articulate and inspiring manifesto by Dante Lima of Say It Loud, and the infinite comment section of shout-outs and support).
I promise that my introductions won’t continue to be so wordy, but I thought it might be important to understand why this post will undoubtedly be longer than any others I could write in the future. There’s simply too much happening to cover even a fraction, nor am I qualified to try. Thankfully, all the things I don’t shed light on I know the multiple Florida-based Portals contributors will proudly showcase.
Now, let’s begin! How about in Orlando, shall we?
From 2006-2010 I was fortunate enough to be a DJ, Local Music Director and Station Manager for WPRK 91.5fm, which is where I began to notice the amazing things happening all around me. Being a student and community-run independent non-profit station, I met folks of all ages and walks of life that came together to share music they loved, for free, on their own time. These people taught me how a community can come together to support itself if the interest is genuine and shared, and provided windows into various pockets of creativity and diversity. Local heroes Steve Head (Tiny Waves, Dark Sea of Awareness), Russell Harrison (Surfin’ Serf), Phil Lleto (The Defilers), Lindsay Smith, Julie Norris (Ourlando) and Pat Greene (Urban ReThink, Orlando’s 2004 Mayor write-in candidate with the slogan “I don’t want to talk about it”) are just a handful of the brilliant folks that donate(d) years of their time just to share what they love and support with dedicated local listeners.
After meeting Steve through WPRK, I became inspired to find more locally rooted folks that loved music and art as much as I did (I figured if Steve could exist there had to be more incredible people hiding in plain sight). We started played shows together with our good friend David Levesque (Levek), and through doing so were introduced to a network of inspiring local musicians. An important part of what enabled us to connect with other artists around us was the plethora of open-minded spaces that allowed us and our friends to play (Stardust, Will’s, BBQBar, Backbooth, Peacock Room, the occasional but incredible house show). Eventually David moved to Gainesville, where he’s been playing a large part in the immensely colorful and brilliant scene that’s currently thriving. I began working at Dandelion, which is where I learned that your community can be your family.
Through Dandelion, I was introduced to a whole new branch of the Orlando family tree. My co-workers were gifted musicians, artists, photographers and healers, each one of them addicted to their craft as catharsis, not business. Folks like Ralph Giunta, Karen Prosen, and Dani Stormes are just a few, and whose work along with other inspiring artists embedded in the Orlando community you can view below.
One of the most inspiring things about Orlando is the creativity put into discovering new ways of getting people to interact. Events like the Accidental Music Fest Car Experiment, The Corrodor Project‘s Walk On By, Pedal Challenge and so many more are stretching the boundaries of how artists and musicians can work together anywhere in any way. One incredible collective that seem to be decorating almost all of Orlando’s most unique events is Shine Shed. Katy Bradford and Leore Wohl transform spaces into caves, space, underwater, mineral deposits and man made gardens using a combination of readily accessible hardware materials and LEDs. They also invite people to their home to create things together, inspiring others to make their surroundings beautiful.
Now let’s take a little road trip about 2 hours north to Gainesville. The Spirit Cat, one of Gainesville’s most supportive and cuddly indigenous creatures has been working hard to convert your local bike shop, book store, video store, warehouse and art gallery into the opposite of a Total Bummer. A small collective dedicated to sharing and connecting Florida’s thriving communities, Spirit Cat has started a cassette label, made a map of places in Florida to play and people to reach out to while booking a tour, and brought us every Total Bummer, Endless Bummer, Skeletron Ball and Zombietoberfest (taking place in Gainesville, Orlando and Tallahassee). These festivals are the reason I know most of my best friends from all around the country, who are the reasons I’ve been introduced to so many incredible communities.
A new forward-thinking collective that recently popped up in Gainesville has caught my attention. Radical Press Coffee Collective, a non-profit, worker-run coffee house that my good friends Hear Hums have helped start now lives and operates inside of the Civic Media Center (a Radical Lending Library and one of the locations used for the very first Total Bummer Fest). Radical Press Coffee Collective’s slogan is “no bosses, no dairy,” promoting the importance of environmental sustainability, animal rights, equality amongst co-workers and cooperation. It’s only appropriate that these two forward thinking collectives would collaborate to create two entirely unique and special establishments under one roof.
Through a common interest in doing things together (and doing things well), incredibly respectable labels have formed in Florida to share their friends’ music and art with the world. Such labels, including the aforementioned Spirit Cat, Akashic, Relief in Abstract (out of Orlando), and Elestial Sound are far more than labels, but entire communities within themselves. Elestial Sound recently opened an ES Headquarters in Gainesville in collaboration with the hugely important Gainesville experimental art collective The Church of Holy Colors. Both Elestial Sound and The Church of Holy Colors own painted school buses powered by veggie oil for artists to use on tour. Elestial Sound has provided friends with keys to their recording studio, which has resulted in some of the most beautiful albums to come out of Gainesville. The lines between label, collective, artist and friend are blurred—everyone helps everyone—everyone benefits.
Levek & Hundred Waters surprise reunion set at the Elestial Sound HQ Opening:
Yarnspace at the Elestial Sound HQ, by The Church of Holy Colors.
Mural at the Civic Media Center, by The Church of Holy Colors.
Now that I’ve inundated you with so many words, I’ll leave you to this treasure map of links to explore and new friends to connect with. I hope this beautiful place has brought you happiness and inspiration, but the most I can hope for is that you’ll plan your own Pedal Challenge within your community (don’t forget the Omnichord)!