The allure of art, indoor activities, and outdoor festivals in Lake County is as strong to some as the pull of the water is to others.
Enjoyment in Lake County is found in a variety of ways. Lake County appeals not only to outdoor sensibilities, but to cultural ones as well. Local cuisine, art, and lifestyle are so impressive there is an array of popular festivals to gather everyone in one place and celebrate. The concept is so prevalent, Mount Dora took on the slogan, “The Festival City.” In this section, we explore and examine the different cultural attractions: art, indoor attractions, and finally, the festivals that almost define our cultural way of life.
Place of Art
For an area known for outdoor fun, Lake County has plenty to offer those who enjoy visual and performance arts. Venues throughout the county provide exhibitions of esteemed fine art and performance, but promote and support the work and education of local and regional artists. Here is a detailed look at the local art scene:
Modernism Museum Mount Dora
145 East Fourth Ave., Mount Dora
Art deco modernist furniture design is at the forefront of visionary expressionism in the visual arts. How fortunate to have a museum dedicated to the genre here in Lake County of the same caliber as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rein, Germany, and Les Arts Décoratif in Paris, France —the new Modernism Museum Mount Dora.
The museum’s new exhibit, Esherick to Nagashima, adds George Nagashima, an internationally acclaimed woodworker honored by the American Institute of Architects in October 2015. A series of work by esteemed artists Sam Maloof, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, and Albert Paley displays their influences and individual styles later.
The Modernism Museum has resonated with artists and art aficionados since opening in October 2013. Visitors arrived en masse for the premier exhibit: Wharton to Wendell, a celebration of pioneering icons Wharton Esherick and Wendell Castle.
The Modernism Museum features usable art like the one-of-a-kind Steinway piano designed by Castle, known as “The Calgari.” The whimsical piano is still a musical instrument. A few times a year, the museum’s gallery is transformed into a mini concert hall for intimate evenings of jazz. Castle created unique pieces like the Calgari piano for more than five decades, consistently challenging the traditional boundaries of functional design and establishing himself as the Father of the American Studio Art Movement.
Fortunately, many of the Wharton to Wendell works will remain in the gallery as part of the permanent collection.
Known for many years as a quaint antique town, Mount Dora has morphed through the years as a fine arts and crafts community. As such, more galleries are opening all the time. Several artists have studios. The transition has many local supporters, like Juliette Davis, director of the Modernism Museum.
Davis emphasizes the museum’s commitment to highlight fine art and provide an educational map as well for fine art patrons that live in Mount Dora, in addition to attracting international fine art aficionados to the area.
“Our intent is to reinforce what Mount Dora is all about, and support the transition into an art community through the integrity of the museum and the art pieces on display,” Davis said. “We all need to get behind what Mount Dora is trying to establish—what it wants to transition to in addition to an antiques town—as a genuine fine arts destination.”
This unique museum exists due to the hard work and dedication of a team of people, museum sponsor Main Street Leasing; an anonymous private collector who donated the collection; and by the museum’s distinctive board: John Sollo, David Rago, and Suzanne Perrault, all three authorities on 20th century decorative arts and furnishings. They are also appraisers for the television show “Antiques Roadshow”; Paul Eisenhauer, curator of the Wharton Esherick Museum; and Robert “Bob” Aibel, founder and owner of the Moderne Gallery in Philadelphia. Many of them will be available for a Meet & Greet at the October 2 premier of the new exhibit.
Mount Dora Center for the Arts
138 East Fifth Ave., Mount Dora
Mount Dora captured the national spotlight as a genuine arts destination through the Mount Dora Center for the Arts signature event: the Fine Arts Festival held annually during the first week of February.
The combination of New England architecture of downtown Mount Dora and breathtaking views of Lake Dora serve as the ideal backdrop for the scenic event, which just celebrated its 40th year. The festival consists of endless rows of various fine art mediums: oil paintings, watercolors, acrylics, clay, sculpture, and photography and local and regional musicians dotting the canvas from each end to center stage at Donnelly Park.
According to Beth Miller, executive co-chair of Mount Dora Center, the festival boasts 285 participating artists and 300,000 annual visitors. Listed in the top 100 festivals in the nation by Sunshine Artists, it is among the top 20 for Central Florida. “The festival is the cornerstone of the organization,” she said.
Mount Dora Center serves an important role for the blossoming fine arts community. The oldest art center in the county offers educational programs, exhibits, and a seven-week summer camp for children, many on scholarship. “One of the most important things we do is offer programs geared to children,” Miller said. “Having that creative art outlet is important for a child’s development, their form of expression.”
The center’s co-op system is also distinctive. Local artists can rent space to exhibit and sell their work in a building owned by the center, separate from the gallery.
The center hosts six to eight exhibits per year, in addition to exhibits for members.
Exhibits for this fall include “Expressions in Pastel” by the Pastel Society of Central Florida, November 2-14, and “Mount Dora in the Fall” November 20-December 23.
Lake Eustis Museum of Art
1 West Orange Ave., Eustis
Founded 20 years ago, the Lake Eustis Museum of Art mission remains “dedicated to the exhibition and collection of fine art and the presentation of museum-quality art education programming to enrich culture and enhance the economic development of our diverse community.”
Simply put, it is the first dedicated art museum in Lake County. “Strictly visual arts, as opposed to performance art or other art activity, meaning: painting, sculpture, drawing, and print making,” specified Executive Director Richard Colvin. In 1995, a group of like-minded individuals created a center designed for art activities for the Eustis area. One year later, they decided the center should become a museum. So it is structured like an art center, but is designated as a museum due to the permanent collection and efforts toward the preservation of art.
In carrying out its primary mission, the exhibition of museum quality art, with an emphasis on contemporary art, Lake Eustis presents six to eight exhibits per year by local, regional, or historic artists. The current exhibit includes “Dwelling Places: Robin Maria Pedrero, on exhibit until October 31. According to Lake Eustis Museum of Art, Pedrero paints “the spirit and energy of life in rhythmic layers of color.” The Pedrero exhibit is immediately followed by “Cynthia Edmonds: Travels.”
Lake Eustis provides art classes for adults and is in the process of developing classes for children. Instruction in oil, acrylic, and water color painting as well as drawing is offered, with the emphasis on the basics of art.
Leesburg Center for the Arts
429 West Magnolia St., Leesburg
Having established partnerships, collaborations and involvement all over town and the county, the Leesburg Center for the Arts takes its role as a center literally. It is the central focal point of the arts community. The center has a partnership with the county for the Wings of Wildfire Festival, displaying paintings of native birds, flora, and fauna by the Pastel Society of Central Florida.
And the Leesburg Center has become home base for local arts groups like: The Pastel Society of Central Florida, The Leesburg Arts Association, The River One Flute Circle, the Melon Patch Players, and many more.
“We are the cultural hub of the community,” said Amy Painter, executive director of the Leesburg Center for the Arts. “Our purpose and design was part of the revitalization of downtown Leesburg. We offer everything from arts education—from age 4 to 104—to cultural community events, like the Leesburg Arts Festival and Song Writer’s Night. We want to be a gathering place where artists, artisans, musicians, and appreciative audiences can connect with one another.”
The Leesburg Arts Festival (held the second weekend in March) is the center’s signature event. The juried art festival attracts about a hundred artisans from all over the country and Canada. The festival is alive with entertainment, interactive kids art projects, food vendors, and literary arts.
Of course, like all other art centers, Leesburg offers gallery exhibits. It hosts six to eight exhibits per year of local and regional artists. Exhibits also represent groups like The Leesburg Art Association or the Pastel Society of Central Florida.
The center provides exceptional programs, like the Rotary Summer Art Institute—the largest education based event in the county. The Institute offers a full summer schedule of mostly visual art activities, with one-week camps per age group for kids age 4–18, divided by preschool, grammar school, middle school, and high school.
“The goal of our programs is to fill niches that aren’t already available in the area,” Painter said. “Rock Band camp, for instance, is a niche Leesburg Center can and does fill, because it is desired and not found elsewhere.”
The Artist Way, a national program for adults, is another good example. It is designed to show laypersons the life of an artist: how to juggle the challenges of life and still maintain creativity in the midst of running the business side of artwork. The Artist Way meets March through May, and culminates with an exhibit. The Center even offers a Culinary Arts Program, done monthly with different themes.
Melon Patch Players
311 North 13th St., Leesburg
The Melon Patch Players are doing for local performing arts what the Modernism Museum and the three countywide art centers are doing for the visual and fine arts—bringing top-caliber material to Lake County. There’s nothing mediocre about the material; the Players present red-hot, edgy Broadway Tony winners like “Vanya and Sasha and Masha and Spike” and “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.”
“They are in their 60-something season,” Painter said. Sixty-third season, in fact. The first production of “Father of the Bride” occurred in 1951.
“It is the longest consecutively run community theater in central Florida,” said J. Scott Berry, president of the Melon Patch Theater. The longevity and experience of the theater group allows them to be experimental and edgy with their scheduled performances. Offering six shows per year—three musical and three non-musical—the list runs the gamut from big Broadway hits like “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man” to cutting edge shows like “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.”
Melon Patch is obviously not afraid to take risks. “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” dealt with growing old, death, being gay, AIDS, and abortion. Somber topics, yet told in a hysterically funny way. Audiences loved it.
“We are doing a better mix of contemporary plays with family-friendly theater,” Berry said. And audiences are responding favorably to the mix.
Melon Patch also offers unique programming and Berry encourages you to take advantage. The noteworthy Patchwork Productions Kids Program introduces students from elementary through high school to the fundamentals of theater with instruction on acting, singing, and dancing, twice a week. The class culminates with annual summer and fall shows.
Bay Street Players at the Historic State Theatre
109 North Bay St., Eustis
The Bay Street Players continue to thrill audiences while providing outstanding educational opportunities at the Historic State Theatre.
Classes in acting, set production, costuming, and front house management are available to anyone interested.
“We offer opportunities for people to learn skills in both the creative and business sides of theater,” said Margo Slaby, theatre operations manager.
That important combination has surely contributed to the theatre’s long history and visible presence in Eustis.
Built in 1916, the State Theatre began as a venue for vaudeville, then cinema. After nearly 60 years, the theater closed. It sat empty until 1975, when a small group of theatre buffs discovered the vacant theatre and envisioned the return of live performances. Through hard work, the building was restored and the Bay Street Players were born. The first production was “Hello Dolly.”
The Bay Street Players commemorated their 40th anniversary with a reproduction of “Hello Dolly” this past summer.
Moonlight Players at the Warehouse Theatre
735 West Minneola Ave., Clermont
The Moonlight Players are also celebrating an anniversary this year—their 20th. To honor the milestone, Moonlight Players are doing what they do best: productions that entertain.
The Moonlight Players Warehouse Theatre is also home to a youth improv group called “The Moonlight Lunatics.” The improvisational performance art troupe serves as an outreach program to community teens aged 13-18 to introduce teens to the performing arts.
Sonnentag Theatre at the Icehouse
1100 North Unser St., Mount Dora
The longest continuously running Lake County’s theater group is the Sonnentag Theatre, now in its 67th season.
The Icehouse has a youth theater group called, appropriately, Icehouse Youth Theatre. The kids have two fall performances scheduled, both in October. “Frozen,” based on the widely popular Disney film, will be performed by small children, ages 5 to 8. The theater promises “singing, dancing, silliness and more” as the children act out the story of sisters Anna and Elsa and their friends. “Insomnia” will explore scary stories set to dark, chilling music in an original performance piece acted out by preteen and teens ages 10 to 18, using musical theater, puppetry, acting, dance, and more.
The Great Indoors
In addition to museums, many other indoor activities are found year-round, that appeal to our senses of wonder, history, comfort, and even thrills unlike any other, such as the indoor trampoline, glow-ball mini-golf, and laser tag. The attractions range from slow to fast and everything in between. From farming tractors to classic speedsters. From laid back spa treatment to fast-paced arcade games. These indoor attractions are not only educational and entertaining, but an affordable way to spend the day.
Mount Dora History Museum
450 Royellou Lane, Mount Dora
You’ll find preserved artifacts from the 1880s to the 1930s when you visit the first firehouse and city jail in historic Mount Dora. Gain a sense of the trials and triumphs of those who lived during that time from maps and photos of trains entering the city, postal relics, a ballot box from the first mayoral election, and an early 1900s hand-drawn fire hose cart. Numerous artifacts depict typical home life, schooling, citrus farming, clothing, guns, and air rifles. Original artwork hangs in restored jail cells. This is the place for you if you love history and relics.
Sky Zone Trampoline Park
2510 South U.S. Hwy 27, Clermont
This indoor trampoline park may seem like a kids-only zone, but it is big fun for all ages. Sky Zone consists of wall-to-wall trampolines and the fun is almost limitless. Jump, flip, fly, bounce, and twirl to your heart’s content. There are a variety of activities, including Open Jump, Ultimate Dodgeball, Toddler Time, Jumpapalooza, SkyRobics, and more. As an added bonus, you can skip your workout for the day.
Clermont Herb Shoppe & Day Spa
702 W. Montrose St., Clermont
All this activity requires some downtime. The Clermont Herb Shoppe & Day Spa, family owned and located in downtown historic Clermont, is just the place to relax and replenish. From the moment you walk through the door, you will be swept away with fresh scents of essential oils wafting through the air. The Herb Shoppe is in its 16th year of offering high-quality natural health and beauty products and a calming spa. Some of a vast array of options: therapeutic spa treatments, including massages, body treatments, facials, lymphatic drainage, reflexology and detox foot baths, will surely hit the spot. They also offer organic, vegan, and gluten-free foods, supplements, skin care, educational classes, and more. You will be pleasantly delighted.
Paquette’s Historical Farmall Tractor Museum
615 S. Whitney Road, Leesburg
Beautifully located on a 50-acre buffalo ranch and ranked Leesburg’s No. 1 attraction by Trip Advisor, the Paquette’s Historical Farmall Tractor Museum is dedicated to the preservation of the International Harvester farming and construction equipment. Find fully restored Farmall tractors for a country mile. Explore other vintage farm equipment, such as combines, cotton pickers, refrigerators, and more as you make your way through three large tractor barns. Tour a replica 1940s International Harvester dealership, fully stocked with parts, equipment, and tools. Friendly and helpful guides ensure this is a crowd-pleaser for all ages.
This indoor glow-in-the-dark miniature golf and laser tag facility is a great place for all ages to show off their skills. In addition, you can play air hockey, pool and arcade games. This unique atmosphere encourages good, old-fashioned fun and friendly interaction with others. Enjoy all of this under black light. Don’t forget to wear white or neon colors.
Eustis Historic Museum (The Clifford House)
536 N Bay St, Eustis
The museum itself has historical significance. G.D. Clifford established the Clifford General Store and began the first mail service for the new settlement that would become Eustis. His private residence, the Clifford House on Bay Street, became the home for the Eustis Historical Museum and Preservation Society in 1893. The neo-classic house is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Eustis Historical Museum features the “Indiana Jones Room” dedicated to the memory of Dr. Edgar James Banks (May 23, 1866 – May 5, 1945): an American diplomat, antiquarian, archeologist, and novelist who discovered Eustis in 1921 and retired here. Banks is most famous for climbing Mount Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark, and he is believed by many to be the inspiration for the Indiana Jones movie character.
Leesburg Heritage Museum
111 South Sixth Street, Leesburg
A historian’s dream, this museum is a treasure trove of Leesburg’s past. Artifacts, memorabilia and extensive archives tell the detailed story of Leesburg, including city government, business development, families, churches, and social associations.
Mount Dora Museum of Speed
206 N. Highland St., Mount Dora
Voted Mount Dora’s top attraction two years in a row, the Mount Dora Museum of Speed boasts a vintage collection to send you down memory lane. As you would expect, vintage American and European muscle cars adorn this small museum, but what you don’t expect will surprise you. The museum has 45-plus years of auto memorabilia, including a 1948 Full Midget Race car by Floyd Trevis, vintage clothing, road signs, WWI and WWII uniforms and famously autographed instruments from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Aerosmith, Ozzy Ozbourne, Montgomery & Gentry, Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones, and other greats.
Warm climate with cool breezes, historic downtowns, rolling hills and trails and plentiful sites for outdoor recreation make Lake County ideal for festivals that provide opportunities for enrichment, community building, and just plain fun. Too many to list, here’s a look at some events you’ll want to place on your calendar.
4th Annual Wings and Wildflowers Festival
Venetian Gardens, Leesburg
Free. Some events available for a fee.
Devout birders and budding ornithologists rejoice! The Wings and Wildflowers festival is a mecca for bird lovers. Find everything from talks with expert naturalists, bird photography lessons, and trips to some of Lake County’s prime birding spots. This festival is a great place to start for those looking to get into the “birding scene” in Lake County. Find excellent resources on the best parks and preserves, what species to look for, and conservation organizations working to protect the vibrant biodiversity here in central Florida.
41st Annual Mount Dora Bicycle Festival
Downtown Mount Dora
With rolling hills and an active community of resident riders, Mount Dora is a natural location for the bicycle festival. Thousands of cyclists gather here to participate in rides all around central Florida. With varying degrees of distance and difficulty offered, everyone can find an exciting ride and a passionate group to roll with. Vendors selling cycling gear, handmade crafts and a wide variety of food will fill the streets. The website contains information on planned rides and other information.
16th Annual Florida Black Bear and Wildlife Conservation Festival
Cadwell Park, Umatilla
The Florida Black Bear and Wildlife Conservation Festival is a fun and educational event that increases awareness and promotes safety. Partners include the US Forest Service, Fish & Game Commission, and Defenders of Wildlife, along with Lake County/City of Umatilla Chamber of Commerce. It is a unique wildlife-centered festival in the southeast. The focus is on education: how to co-exist and preserve the eco-system that is so important for the livelihood of local business, while educating people on migration habits, preserving a wildlife habitat.
17th Annual Lake County Folk Festival
Join folk lovers from all over the state who gather to hear talented musicians play at various venues throughout downtown Eustis. Sponsored by the Lake Eustis Institute Public Art & Music Committee, the Lake County Folk Festival is “considered one of the top five acoustic music festivals in Florida,” said Miranda Burrows, public relations, City of Eustis. It is also “one of the longest running free festivals in the state, and we plan to keep it that way,” said Jeff Friberg, who founded the event. “It fills the whole town with music and a sense of camaraderie.” Check out the festival website for up-to-date information on venues, participating musicians, or an application to perform.
Bushnell Fall Festival
A time-honored, county favorite, the Fall Festival in downtown Bushnell celebrates the anniversary of the City of Bushnell. It offers all your festival favorites: a variety of local arts and crafts vendors, fundraisers, and exhibits; rides and activities for children; wholesome entertainment all day long; a “Greased Pig” contest; plus, a morning parade, early evening Street Dance, and a nighttime fireworks display caps off the event. That’s how you celebrate a city birthday party.
31st Annual Mount Dora Craft Fair
Downtown Mount Dora
Ideally timed for holiday shopping, this immensely popular event lets festivalgoers peruse unique and local wares while meeting talented artists. Exhibitors lining the streets showcase an unparalleled expression of creativity and craftsmanship. Also, enjoy a delicious selection of festival foods, from organic smoothies to mouth-watering BBQ.
Leesburg Craft Beer, Wine and Food Fest
Venetian Gardens, Leesburg
$25 per person
A colorful, popular event that encourages revelers to travel station to station at the Islands of Venetian Gardens sampling any of their 25 different craft beers or wines from around the world, plus a variety of food from the region’s best restaurants as while enjoying live music. It doesn’t get much more festive than that.
Tavares Fall Thunder Race Boat Regatta
Wooton Park, Tavares
Free on Friday. $5 over the weekend
Thanks to the sponsorship of the Classic Race Boat Association, Tavares is now a major stop on the Florida Vintage Race Boat Circuit with more than 75 vintage and classic flat bottoms, speedsters, outboards, gold cuppers, and hydros of all sizes from bygone eras entertain spectators at Wooton Park, Lake Dora.
41st Annual Mount Dora Arts festival
Downtown Mount Dora
February 6-7, 2016
The festival’s wide selection of fine art and gourmet foods will impress even the most discerning art collector—285 artists present their talents to more than 250,000 expected attendees. The charming, Victorian architecture and welcoming atmosphere of downtown Mount Dora make it a great place to appreciate the variety of artwork.
The Villages 7th Annual Lake Sumter Art & Craft Festival
Lake Sumter Landing, The Villages
February 20-21, 2016
One of the fastest growing places to live hosts one of the fastest growing arts & crafts festivals in the state. In its seventh year, the Lake Sumter Art and Craft Festival features unique talented crafters among charming musicians and street performers. Items include handcrafted leather goods, sculpture, paintings, photography, glasswork, woodwork, and metalwork.
114th Annual GeorgeFest
February 27-March 1, 2016
Celebrate the birth of our nation’s first president with Ferris wheels, fireworks, and upbeat music as Eustis shows it knows how to throw a party worthy of a president. “People dress as George Washington, which is lots of fun,” said Christie Bobbit, executive director of Lake Eustis Area Chamber of Commerce. Friday night, enjoy a variety of carnival rides and live music downtown. On Saturday morning, local clubs and organizations display their patriotic spirit in the grand parade. This is one of Lake County’s largest festivals, attracting 80,000 visitors annually.
The 29th Annual Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival
Wooten Park, Tavares
$5 for adults, $3 for children
The exquisite artistry of antique boats, along with passionate owners dedicated to showroom-quality restoration draw crowds of people to this three-day event on the shores of Lake Dora. This festival brings together a community of boat lovers who love to discuss, admire, and enjoy these beautiful pieces of American history. Boat aficionados will appreciate the nautical themed flea market and assortment of live music.
Central Florida Dragon Boat Festival
Wooton Park, Tavares
April 1-2, 2016
Free to public. For entry fees, see website
The Rotary Club of Lake County Golden Triangle Central Florida Dragon Boat Festival is the main event of the year. Born out of myth and legend 2,000 years ago in southern China, dragon boat racing is one of the fastest growing water sports worldwide. Two million compete around the world. According to Colleen McGinley, executive director of Tavares Chamber of Commerce, the Dragon Boat Festival, now in its 14th year in Tavares, “is a big draw. Racers from all over the world compete.” A highlight is the Saturday night opening ceremony: Awakening the Dragon.