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Here's a chance to meet the artist

After you've met a painter or sculptor in an informal setting and had a chance to converse with him, his work takes on new meaning. It's fun to read his personality or philosophy into what you're viewing. That's why the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center is sponsoring its Lunch With an Artist series in downtown Clearwater.

After you've met an NFL player in street clothes at your club meeting, talking informally about locker room banter or his kids at home, you feel at the next football game like you're cheering on a friend. That's why the Clearwater Bucs Bunch invites players to its meetings.

After you and the orchestra conductor have chatted over wine or coffee in a private home, that man dramatically waving his baton at the next concert you attend no longer seems like some unapproachable impresario but a real person. That's why the Florida Orchestra North Suncoast Associates sponsors its Meet the Artist get-togethers.

Those who have met Thomas Wilkins, the Florida Orchestra's new resident conductor, assure all that he's a real person. Likable, approachable, downright congenial and conversable.

He will be the guest at the next Meet the Artist gathering at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Belleair home of Dr. Eric Weston and Barbara Baccari. The public is invited to this event, which will include a wine reception, then Wilkins' talk, "A View from the Podium," followed by a question-and-answer period and finally coffee and dessert.

Those attending will be asked for a $25 donation, with all proceeds going into the orchestra's troubled treasury. Call Susan Siewruk at 787-6245 for reservations and the address.

Wilkins, 37, and his family are moving here from Virginia where he just completed his fifth season as associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony. He will lead more than 60 concerts during the Florida Orchestra's current season, including three in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa in the days immediately following his Meet the Artist appearance.

He has been described as an engaging and accomplished public speaker to complement his distinguished artistic abilities. He is in the No. 2 position here under music director Jahja Ling.

North Suncoast Associates is a year-and-a-half-old orchestra support group. It replaced an all-women guild. It sponsors a variety of events, such as a brunch with Ling on Dec. 4.

Memberships are $25 for individuals or $40 for families. Call Ann Strother at 595-7639 for more information.

Benefit planned

Here's a quantum leap _ from dessert and the classics to fried fish, grits and jazz. It's time for the annual Johnny Leverock Fish Fry to benefit five facilities for troubled young people administered by Florida Sheriffs' Youth Ranches.

The event will be from noon to 6 p.m. Nov. 5 in a tent at Leverock's Seafood House on U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park, a little south of Park Boulevard and Pinellas Square Mall.

This is an affair that was an institution around here in the late 1950s and early '60s and was reborn in 1991. The star of the show is still an old-fashioned fish dinner with hush puppies, french fries, cole slaw, grits and a beverage, all for $5.

Also starring will be Sonna LaRosa and America's Youngest Jazz Band at 1 p.m.

Bob Henderson is a Times editor in Clearwater.

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