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The show must go on

Gala Corina, a free-wheeling happening of an art show, almost wasn't going to happen this year. Many of the original organizers had to drop out for personal reasons. It was late getting pulled together. And just two weeks before its planned opening in the historic Arlington Hotel in downtown Tampa, the building was declared unsafe by the city's fire marshal, leaving the chairman, John Langley, in a scramble to find an alternate location.

But the good news is the show will go on as planned, at a former cigar factory in Ybor City near the site of the first Gala Corina in 1999. No wonder, then, that the show has a new title: Milagro, the Spanish word for miracle.

More than 100 artists will participate in media ranging from paintings, prints, photography and sculpture to installations, performance art and videos, most of it for sale and at reasonable prices. Friday's opening night party has always been a magnet for the young and the cool, drawing a crowd of about 2,500 last year to the historic Tyer Temple in Tampa Heights for free food, drink and live music. With its location in Ybor, Langley expects more than 3,000 to attend. And for those who want some breathing room when they view the art, the space will be open at various times through Nov. 22. (See box.) Admission is free.

Gala Corina began in 1999 when a group of young artists and architects, frustrated that they couldn't get their work shown in local galleries, decided to have their own show. Like the early Guavaweens, it was a slapdash affair, with just 22 artists displaying their work in the Corina cigar factory in Ybor. It was such a success, the volunteer organizers decided to make it an annual event, holding it in a different historic building each year.

Langley, who has been a Gala Corina volunteer from the beginning, said the condition of the buildings has always been problematic. But the code issues this year at the Arlington became financially insurmountable, requiring expensive additions such as a sprinkler system.

He said the new location in Ybor Square, though currently unoccupied, is owned by the Zom Co., a large developer, and is up to code. At 15,000 square feet, it's almost as big as the Arlington, so the event won't have to be downsized. In the past, the group installed elaborate backdrops for the art. This year, Langley said, there will be few modifications.

"We're bringing in scaffolding" to define the spaces, he said. "If we'd had more time we could have gone to town on it. But none of the artists have dropped out and everyone's being really cooperative."