Fifty years ago, Walt Disney commissioned a secret study called Project Future and an exhaustive search was undertaken to find a location for a new Disneyland east of the Mississippi. After looking at St. Louis, New York and Kansas City, Disney settled on Florida for his new location. Although Daytona Beach and Palm Beach were strong contenders, the final decision was between the Central Florida towns of Ocala and Orlando. Today, Ocala is a wonderful rural town, surrounded by beautiful horse farms and a dragster museum. Thanks to Walt, Orlando is the home of the Mouse. While Ocala gets livestock shows and glass bottom boats, we have grown into a modern city; adding a community of artistic types will do that for you. Walt’s decision created a haven for artists and performers from all over the world, we have comedy troupes, art galleries, singing waiters, game developers and plenty of theater. Had Walt lived long enough to see Disney World open, he’d have felt very at home here.
Here’s one Walt never saw coming; Orlando’s most popular annual art exposition: Nude Nite. That’s right, the good people of Orlando decide each Valentine’s Day: “There’s naked people, let’s go see em!” And they do, thousands jam the three night exhibition in a vacant warehouse next to a bread factory, the smell of fresh bread adding to the surreal evening. Nothing dirty is going on, Nude Nite is a celebration of non judgement, diversity, the human form, humor and just plain ole fun. Like the stamp on my hand says, it was “Art.”
Here’s what Nude Nite was not: it was not some boring art fund raiser where husbands were dragged to bid on items to impress their friends. It was not pornography and definitely not a church event. It was not a night for creepy guys in raincoats, not a strip joint, not a swingers club. It was not a night where anyone played the “I’m offended card” or the “exploitation card”.
Nope; the attendees were from several generations, all sexual orientations (I mean ALL), and all there because they wanted to be there. They were, in fact, happy to stand in a cold, windy line to fork over $20 to see art featuring naked people. Why?
As you can imagine, there is no shortage of nakedness available on the internet, Orlando has “gentlemen’s” clubs and there are art shows every weekend. Nakedness and art are not things we have to sneak around to see anymore. What made Nude Nite special? Was it the lemoncello? The Tapas? The tee shirts?
No, it was two things: Safety and community. Under the protective guise of supporting the arts, suburban crossover drivers were given a chance to be a little out there, to mingle with the edgy artists with piercings and tattoos, to look at naked breasts and say, “My, that’s wonderful art!” While there was nothing implying a sexual act portrayed, there was a palpable atmosphere of lawyers in love, a lot of hands on jean clad asses. (Oh yea, a word on jeans. My generation decried the uniform formality of our Grandparent’s generations; no ties, no hats, no wing tips, we were going to show our independence and individuality. So, what did 95% of the individuals wear to Nude Night? Dungarees. We showed them, we uniformly dress like Roy Rogers now.)
The night was, dare I say it: fun! No one was trying to be too “artsy”; it’s hard to do that with a woman hanging off a pole in front of you and someone else strolling around in body paint. No pretense, everyone was in on the joke. All media was represented from oil, to mixed fibre, sculpture, photography and performance art. My highlight: a naked woman sitting perfectly still with a phone jack over her face. If you listened to the phone she was connected to, you realized she represented the hopelessly impersonal nature of phone sex. There was a woman dressed as a bird in a cage, a comment on the role of women, and a roving, angry dancer who would emit a piercing scream every so often, representing rage and frustration (or waiting for the cable guy.)
Why was it art? (Besides the stamp on my hand declaring it so?) Because the art work was Really good, the creativity was amazing and it was not prurient. The models were not Penthouse airbrushed (except the body painted who were airbrushed), they had faults, they looked real. The work made you think, being in a room with a thousand other people enjoying the human form released the creepy factor, it was a charged atmosphere of open admiration for God’s greatest creation, the human body.
Good art causes a reaction, it comes from emotion and this was good art. If it takes a little non-creepy nakedness to get people thinking about artists and creation, why not? Nude Nite spoke to anxiety, to shame, to anger, to manipulation, to loneliness, to body image, to sexuality. It helped us to realize that we were not alone, everyone has parts, our parts are not that dissimilar.
Art gives us a new way to look at the world, and while the show was fun, it helped us realize that everyone attending was nude, some of us just had clothes on.
Oh yea, Walt, thanks for putting pants on that damn mouse and not dooming us to a future of cattle auctions.
BTW: If nudity offends you, why have you read this far?:)