Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 8, 2009

The Subtle Side of Daytona Beach

Sounds like …

When the aircraft pulled up to the gate and the engines shut down, I became aware of a strange sound somewhere in the mid-distance. It was alternately a roar and a whine, oscillating crazily but not quite within my range. It made me think of a dentist’s drill and my trick, at such times, of going away somewhere else in my mind to escape the vibrations in my head. I swallowed hard several times thinking that my ears had not yet re-pressurized, but the sound was still there.

As I exited the aircraft into the jetway, it became even louder although still somewhat “out there” and ill-defined. As I entered the departure lounge, the whine and growl suddenly increased. As I navigated my way through the crowd, I glanced out the floor-to-ceiling windows and there it was on the other side of the tarmac; the Daytona International Speedway where the Rolex 24 was underway.

Stupid me.

The eye of the beholder

I have come to Daytona Beach not for the cars and the motorcycles, but to experience this city as an arts and cultural destination. Because of the vigour and energy at the core of this city (and yes, it is to a great extent due to the multiplex culture of the internal combustion engine) I learn very quickly to adjust my frame of reference, and to add some new dimensions to what I have always considered “art.” I learn once again to beware of the fixed notion when travelling.

And the first benefit I gain from visiting Daytona is to re-examine the whole notion of what is art. I know, I know … we have been having that debate/discussion for eons; and yet the reason we continue to dialogue about the nature of art is probably because we have not reached a full consensus on the issue. And perhaps that is just as well; perhaps that is the ongoing nature of art. Perhaps that is why Daytona is a great location in which to pursue the truly representative and experiential side of art — in The Birthplace of Speed.

It is a fundamental human need to communicate through diverse media — through art especially. And a visit to the Daytona Art League and a brief conversation with Nan Jacoby confirms that there is a very grassroots arts community in Daytona; which serves as a role model for any community.

The juried show we attend is a very professional exhibition that is also very organic in nature. This is a community in which there is a strong commitment to the arts and — as I start to realize — an arts scene that has an “exhilaration factor” that is to be found elsewhere in speed city. Passion for the arts in Daytona is not overshadowed in any way; it is a complementary cultural phenomenon here.

Text and context

Outside the Ormond Memorial Museum, there is a quiet, almost labyrinthine-like tropical garden that is an appropriate apéritif to the collection inside, including one of the most expressive contemporary exhibits I have seen in a long time. It is clear that, artistically speaking, Daytona is a bold and daring arts town.

Let me go out on a limb and say that music is to Daytona as a moveable feast is to Paris. If it is a regional production of a Broadway musical comedy production (regional theatres in North America are not just “little theatres”), you will find it at The Seaside Music Theatre which, by the way, is a relatively new and architecturally grand venue that refocusses downtown Daytona from an enlightened urban planning point of view.

Or if it is classical music that is more to your taste, The Daytona Beach Symphony Orchestra which performs in the elegant Peabody Auditorium, will be your cup of ambrosia. Was it just my luck that the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra was in town and performing the works of three of my favourite composers: Mussorgsky, Liszt, and Dvorak?

Photoart

I happen to be a special fan of the art of photography, and recognize it as such. I also am very encouraged that in the digital age many of us can now try our hand at this art form.

As we have always known, art thrives when ordinary people can not only access it but also experiment with it. I am not of the school of thought that says that the digital image has laid waste the “true” photographic art form. Au contraire mes chers. I believe that the new technology has given us an even greater appreciation for the art of the photographer.

Arts and sciences

Perhaps the most integrated art experience I had in Daytona was at the permanent collection of the superb multidisciplinary of the Museum of Arts and Sciences, a particularly eclectic institution which is instructive, without being didactic, and also willing to not avoid controversy. Its Cuban art gallery is especially interesting.

The only downside to this prodigious institution was that I only had one day to visit it and had to make a list of galleries that I would see the next time. This was, in part, because I tarried in the Gallery of Chinese Art where, as a fan of ceramics, I found some wonderful pieces.

But before I forget, let me recommend some other art and architectural sites that you should add to your “Let’s Go Arts in Daytona” itinerary:

The Halifax Historical Museum

and

The African-American Museum of the Arts

Andy Warhol has died and gone to Daytona

Pop art is … um … art.

And everywhere I went in Daytona I saw Pop Art: “intentional” Pop Art and the “real thing” which embodied this particular genre in a kind of archetypal way.

Pop Art came to the fore in Britain in the mid 1950s later in the U.S. Considered a major art movement of the 20th century, it highlights, celebrates, and in a way explains or makes statements on mass popular culture. Some see it as a reaction to other traditional or even abstract art forms. As a counterfoil for what some see as an elitist art culture, Pop Art can take what may appear banal and make it meaningful.

I’ve always kind of “got it” when it comes to Pop Art, but a visit to Daytona made me really appreciate it as an expression of human behaviour. Here again, that other culture in Daytona has had a big impact on the city being a Pop Art destination.

I spent considerable time in Bruce Rossmeyer’s Harley-Davidson dealership just looking at the images, imagery, and interpreting them.

And then when I got home, I rushed to the library to get a copy of

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

to revisit the little epiphanies that that cutting edge book gave me. I’m not about to become a RUB (Rich Urban Biker) but since my visit to Daytona, I have a much greater awareness of this sub-culture.

To the lighthouse

Illumination is — if all goes well — the essence of the artistic experience; not unlike travel.

Like many people, I have always found lighthouses fascinating subjects in themselves. Each is a narrative in itself and a symbol of lives lived (often in solitude) and lives of purpose; in many ways the most fundamental of purposes.

Many aficionados of lighthouses consider them works of art; and I agree. Structurally, architecturally, and aesthetically they can be quite stunning. They are also structures that often emphasize symmetry and (I’ll dare to say it) a kind of nobility.

The Ponce de Léon Inlet Lighthouse is one such work of art. It is grand, proud, and magnificent. It is also the spot in Daytona where you can get the full view, and the whole perspective.

The art of achieving human rights

Visionaries and morally courageous people have always been students of what has been known as the liberal arts.

The “liberal” in Liberal Arts comes from the Latin word liberalis, meaning “appropriate for free men” and a term that denoted class distinctions: the elite versus the working class who served the needs of the former but were not required to have the same educational opportunities.

Originally seven liberal arts made up the core curriculum of the medieval universities. Of the two groups of studies, one focussed on logic and rhetoric, amongst other skills.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was an early civil rights leader, educator, and founder of Daytona’s Bethune-Cookman College.

She was also a person who knew intuitively and through personal struggle that the power of speech and the power of reasoning were “arts” that any enlightened and truly civilized society must possess.

Through her work, determination, persistence, and with a little help from her friends (such as Eleanor Roosevelt), she fought against racism and served as an unofficial advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She knew that education was the key to social advancement and to this end she devoted much of her life to providing such opportunities for African-Americans.

Along with other pioneers like

Jackie Robinson (Daytona was the first U.S. city to allow him to play), Dr. Bethune has also made Daytona an African-American heritage destination.

The Florida Memory Project has also paid tribute to Dr. Bethune through its online resources.

In an interview, Dr. Bethune was asked about the influences in her life, especially that of her mother, and about a time when she learned that a mission school had been built for non-white children and that she was able to go to school at last. She said:

“You know, my mother was one of those grand educated persons that did not have letters. She had a great vision, a great understanding of human nature….

My mother had a great philosophy of life. She came down from one of the great royalties of Africa. She could not be discouraged. No matter what kind of plight we found ourselves in, she always believed there was, through prayer and work, a way out. And it was one of the greatest things she stimulated life with…. that determination that there was a way out if we put forth effort ourselves.”

For more information on Mary Mcleod Bethune, visit www.bethune.cookman.edu.

The culinary arts in Daytona

Dining in Daytona is a contextual experience. First, the food is good. Fine diners or funky food faddies will love this town. And if you are into the sociological and pop history side of dining, many of Daytona’s dining establishments will delight all your senses. From fun to finesse, the city has it all.

Here are some recommendations:

La Crêpe en Haut

The Dancing Avocado Kitchen (110 South Beach Street; Tel: 386-947-2022)

Christina’s Beach Street Café (246 South Beach Street; Tel: 386-258-7112)

The Cellar

The Daytona Diner (290½ North Beach Street; Tel: 386-258-8488)

Racing’s North Turn Beach Bar and Grille

The Stonewood Grille and Tavern

Cultural Juxtaposition in Daytona

What I found so interesting in Daytona Beach was the integration and concordance of various sub- or corollary cultures. This in itself suggests a healthy and vibrant community.

“Culture” is one of those concepts and terms that we tend to bandy about without giving it too much thought. And yet human culture is a very complex and a fascinating area of study. Although the term often conjures up notions of being “educated” or “trained” in a specific ways, it really is much more. The broadest and most comprehensive definition of culture refers to how collective behavior patterns are socially transmitted through such areas of human endeavour as the arts, belief systems, social institutions of all kinds, commerce, and all other “products” of human achievement and thought.

Studying human culture — and travel is often an almost subliminal study of it — reveals behavioural patterns, general traits, and even specific commercial products and how the latter represent cultural social values. The aforementioned cultural elements are also usually the expression of a particular time period, social class, a distinct community, or the population in general.

A visit to Daytona Beach is in many ways a mini-course in cultural anthropology.

“Now it’s become apparent that this [cultural change] isn’t a fad that’s going to go away next year or the year after. It’s here to stay because it’s a very serious and important way of looking at things that looks incompatible with reason and order and responsibility but actually is not… It was an intrusion on his reality. It just blew a hole right through his whole groovy way of looking at things and he would not face up to it because it seemed to threaten his whole lifestyle…. And, of course, when you discover something like that it’s like discovering a tooth with a missing filling. You have to probe it, work around it, push on it, think about it, not because it’s enjoyable but because it’s on your mind and it won’t get off your mind…. because the irritation seems symptomatic of something deeper, something under the surface that isn’t immediately apparent…. To an experienced Zen Buddhist, asking if one believes in Zen or one believes in the Buddha, sounds a little ludicrous, like asking if one believes in air or water. Similarly Quality is not something you believe in, Quality is something you experience.” — Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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