Salvador Dali Museum, Inc. St. Petersburg, Florida
By Donna Carter
With the Sunshine State’s worldwide reputation for theme parks and beaches, first time visitors are often surprised to discover a vibrant arts and culture scene that includes a wealth of top-notch museums, opera, theatre, performing arts, world class symphony and a number of fascinating cultural attractions.
Remember “The Big Top”
One of several attractions on the John and Mabel Ringling Estate at Sarasota is the family-friendly Circus Museum that traces the illustrious history of the famous Ringling family circus. Museum displays include rare posters and handbills, dazzling costumes, ornate circus wagons, plus an extension of the museum houses the world’s largest miniature circus diorama. Also on the property, the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art features an impressive sculpture garden and 21 connecting galleries containing priceless works by masters such as Rubens, El Greco and Gainsborough. Another highlight of the estate is John Ringling’s former Venetian-style mansion, Ca d’Zan (meaning house of John) where narrated tours illustrate the life of the greatest circus impresario who ever lived.
New & Notable
The 2011 opening of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg was a huge addition to this popular waterfront city and Florida in general. The museum, of course, is named after the Spanish artist considered the world’s greatest surrealist painter. Dali died in 1989 and today the largest collection of his works outside of Spain is housed in the stunning $36 million, 6,317-square metre facility containing 96 oil paintings, at least 100 watercolours and drawings, and more than 1,000 sculptures, photos and other objets d’art.
The annual Florida Film Festival, headquartered at Orlando’s Enzian Theatre, is scheduled every spring. The 10-day event has premiered some of the best current, foreign and independent cinema for more than 20 years. The Festival includes more than 160 films, 100 visiting moviemakers, film stars and numerous fun and food events. For movie lovers, this is a must-attend affair. Throughout the year the Enzian also hosts a number of other film events including the Jewish Film Festival, a kids film fest and a South Asian Film Festival.
The state’s music and performing arts scene is both well developed and plentiful. It’s safe to say there isn’t a single Florida metropolis that doesn’t have live theatre and musical performances. Daytona Beach’s Peabody Auditorium regularly hosts renowned groups including the London Symphony Orchestra, and in Fort Lauderdale, the Grand Opera Season at the beautiful Broward Center for the Performing Arts presents all-time favourite classics like The Magic Flute, La boheme and La Traviata. In Miami, the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts features everything from film to ballet and various musical performances. From Panama City Beach in the north – where its historic Martin Theatre offers everything from stand up comedy to live theatre and music – south to the Florida Keys, the Sunshine State’s performing arts scene rivals the best in the nation.
Unique & Charming
St. Augustine is the only Florida community with a real living history museum that incorporates an entire portion of the city. Its Old Town section features cobblestone streets lined with centuries-old buildings where costumed interpreters depict life as it was in the mid-1700s. A cornerstone of this historic enclave is the mammoth Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century Spanish fortress deemed to be the oldest of its kind in the United States. Featured exhibits here include ancient weaponry and military reenactments in period costume.
A Multitude Of Museums
With at least 300 museums of every size from small to grand, Florida is a museum-lovers nirvana. There’s everything from kids’ museums to outdoor museums, military and history museums, and even one on Amelia Island housed in a former jail. Indeed, the choices are endless. Some have unique attractions such as the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS) which houses the largest collection of Cuban art outside of Cuba. Much of the collection was donated to the museum by former Cuban President Batista prior to his fall from power in 1957. In addition, for people unaware that mammoth mastodons once roamed the Florida landscape, MOAS provides an awakening with its awesome four-metre tall skeleton of a giant ground sloth. Other museums across the state are dedicated to the history and memorabilia associated, for instance, with water skiing, fishing, police weaponry, the Holocaust, seashells and certainly last but not least the famous Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, 30 minutes east of Orlando.
A Cultural Experience
On the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, its Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is a living history venue where visitors learn about Seminole traditions and culture dating back to the mid-1800s. Located west of Fort Lauderdale in Florida’s heartland, the museum is home to 30,000 artifacts and archival items including 40 life-size figures depicting activities such as hunting, dancing and canoeing. Surrounded by Everglades flora and fauna, the outdoor part of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki features a long boardwalk leading to a living history village where Seminole artisans and tribal elders can be observed creating beadwork, basketry, woodcarving, clothing and other traditional art forms. There are also regular reenactments of Seminole rituals and ceremonies.
A much different cultural experience is provided at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, the largest city in the state’s famous South Florida Keys. Here, people can view the Spanish Colonial-style residence where the celebrated author spent a decade writing some of his greatest novels. Hemingway was an avid collector of 17th- and 18th-century Spanish furniture and the house still contains many of his original furnishings.