DUNEDIN — The circus train has pulled into the station, the freak banners are up and the animals are ready to roar. So step right up and enjoy the circus-inspired atmosphere at the bigger, better Dunedin Fine Art Center.
Two exhibits of circus, carnival and mystifying art are sure to amaze. And in honor of the grand opening of the center's new east wing, admission tonight and Saturday is free.
A reception will take place this evening from 6 to 8 p.m. On Saturday, a Kids' Art Fest will take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
One year ago, the art center broke ground on a $1.9 million expansion and renovation project paid for by private donors. Now it will be unveiled with all the spectacle of a grand three-ring circus.
In the center ring is the new 12,000-square-foot Louis and Valerie Flack East Wing. Designed by Collman and Karsky Architects of Tampa and constructed by J. Kokolakis Contracting of Tarpon Springs, it honors the Flacks, whose donation of $1.2 million helped spur the capital campaign for the expansion.
The focal point of this wing is the reincarnated David L. Mason Children's Art Museum, which has morphed into a big-top tent filled with more than 20 art and activity stations. Aptly dubbed "Under the Big Top," the fun and colorful installation will remain through August 2012.
A large red engine of a circus train made from industrial foam, plywood and cardboard defines the room. Feel free to ring the brass bell.
"The whole idea was to have this train passing through the children's museum and headed toward the rest of the art center," said Todd Still, the art center's youth education director.
The circus menagerie roams free here. A donated giant giraffe was rescued from the center's annual Trashy Treasures sale. A vintage ape banner promoting Tyrone the Terrible was brought in from North Florida.
The children's museum is adjoined to the Joseph and Anna Kokolakis Youth Gallery.
"For the first time, kids will have their own gallery to display their art," said Ken Hannon, associate executive director.
The wing also features a performing arts studio, new clay labs and other multipurpose studios.
Two intriguing exhibits complement the circus theme.
• The "Sideshow" exhibit, running through Oct. 17, showcases banners and artwork by contemporary artists inspired by the circus/carnival genre. Expect humor, the absurd, surprise and feelings of nostalgia.
• "Believe It or Not" is an international exhibit on display through Dec. 23. It offers a wide range of unusual artwork by various artists, including photographs of the unique underwater sculptures of Jason deCaires Taylor.
Taylor has gained significant recognition for his work, which involves carving cement figures and submerging them below the sea to create artificial and beautiful reefs that attract not only marine life but scuba divers as well.
" 'Believe It or Not' is an exhibit of artists whose works in imagery, methods or materials are simply unbelievable," said Catherine Bergmann, curator of the exhibits.