Fresh art with Florida heart

In the circular, sky-lit room stands a towering glass sculpture. At over 20 feet, the delicate blown glass looks like a tree of squirming blue and yellow crystalline snakes.

The work is by Dave Chihuly, one of the foremost glass artists in the world, and it stands sentry to the galleries of the Orlando Museum of Art. The tower, commissioned as part of a wider Chihuly exhibit in 2004, now serves as a striking beginning to OMA’s impressive collections.

“The piece was created just for the space,” explains Linda Cegelis, public relations and marketing manager for OMA. “One of the things we are known for is our glass work.”

OMA has a little bit of everything, from contemporary art to traditional portraits. Their African collection, “Living in Style: African Art of Everyday Life,” has been voted in the top 100 collections by “Art & Antiques Magazine,” and the ancient Americas exhibit, “Aztec to Zapotec,” includes pieces spanning over 3,000 years, including some of the best examples of painted clay vessels in the world.

“Our collections speak to the diversity of the Orlando area,” Cegelis said. “Our underlying philosophy is that we are responsible to the community.”

OMA worked with Orange and Seminole County school systems to develop their African and South American exhibits for the year.

“These collections are part of the curriculum for Orange and Seminole County schools,” Cegelis explains. “That way, kids can learn and read about these cultures and then come and see what they studied.”

OMA furthered their integration into the community last year by hosting a photography contest on Facebook. “Picturing My Florida: A Grassroots Portrait of the Sunshine State” was developed as a companion to the museum’s collection of paintings depicting what Cegelis calls “old Florida,” an exhibit entitled “Reflections: Paintings of Florida 1865-1965.”

OMA accepted submissions from amateur and professional photographers for the contest, hosting them on their Facebook page. The pictures that got the most ‘likes’ are now featured in the museum.

While “Reflections” is a presentation of traditional paintings of undeveloped land and small town life, “Picturing my Florida” has pieces depicting everything from wildlife to rocket launches to a McDonalds building.

Over 5,000 people voted in the online contest, a huge success for OMA, and one they would like to see repeated.

“The social marketing for the “Picturing My Florida” contest resulted in a huge growth of our Facebook fans,” Cegelis said. “We look forward to repeating this popular exhibit, although we don’t currently have dates scheduled.”

“Reflections” and “Picturing My Florida” will be on display until July 15.

OMA rotates pieces in the permanent exhibits every four to six weeks, and change their temporary exhibits every few months. The constant revolution means there is always something new to see.

“We’re always changing,” Cegelis says. “There’s always reasons to come back.”