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ItÕs nearly fall, and the summer doldrums have turned into a feast of riches in the bay area arts world, from Yo-Yo Ma and The Color Purple to Metallica and U2, plus a range of luminous art exhibits. We asked our critics to share the five shows they most look forward to in stage, music and art Ñ not necessarily the biggest or the best, but those worth your time and precious dollars.

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Stamina will be on display as much as creativity in the coming year at arts institutions as they cope with the economic downturn, which is squeezing the arts pretty hard.

Most are operating with pared-down staffs but arts people have always been good multitaskers so it's unlikely that visitors will find that anything has changed. Museums, especially, are going forward with plans made several years ago, giving us a varied visual feast that ranges from crowd-pleasing luminaries to less obvious lights that also have big, thought-provoking ideas.

This is a fall preview so I'm bypassing shows at the Tampa Museum of Art, which doesn't open until January, though I'm just as excited about the Jesper Just videos that will follow the Matisse show. And, of course, I can't wait to see another marquee artist, Botero, at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg in January. But I'm equally excited about other museum exhibitions coming our way sooner that will bring some old favorites and new contemporary art.

And I'm also anticipating shows at area galleries that seem to have a "never mind" attitude about the economy, continuing to show a variety of artists who may not be commercially safe but have interesting new points of view.

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1 Venice in the Age of Canaletto

Oct. 10 through January, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota

Love beautiful paintings? You'll adore the group the Ringling has assembled from its own collection and loans. But this show aims for more in putting Canaletto in the context of his 18th century city-state, which he documented with his famous landscapes. They're far different from the exuberant Venetian style of the time, which will be illustrated with works by other artists as well as decorative arts.

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2 New Weather: Diana Al-Hadid, Robyn O'Neil and Iva Gueorguieva

Nov. 6 through March 6, University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, 4202 E Fowler Ave., Tampa

Curator David Norr brings three remarkable artists together. O'Neil and Al-Hadid are the bigger names, the former for her drawings, the latter for her sculptures, both working in large scale and exploring landscape as human destiny. Gueorguieva works big, too; her fantastical paintings - also landscapes of sorts - will add even more visceral punch to this important show.

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3 I Heard a Voice: The Art of Leslie Dill

Oct. 10 through Dec. 27, Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg

I have been a fan of Dill for years, admiring her exquisite works on and with paper laced with evocative narratives. For the first time, we'll get to see a large body of her work, most of it new.

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4 Rocky and Friends

Nov. 22 through Jan. 10, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, 600 Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs

This is one of the most original and delightful premises for a show. It celebrates the Palm Harbor Arts Festival's 35th anniversary through the prism of artists who have formed longtime friendships through years of exhibiting there. The catalyst is Tarpon Springs artist Rocky Bridges, who has achieved national acclaim but continues to participate in smaller area festivals. Ten artists have collaborated on new work that honors their camaraderie.

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5 The gallery scene

I'm choosing this broad category because I love these small independents whose owners work hard to rotate lots of artists in and out of their galleries. Among my favorites are Bleu Acier and Clayton in Tampa and C. Emerson Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. And all hail the new Mindy Solomon Gallery opening Oct. 3 at 124 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. Solomon's expertise is in ceramics and her first show features examples from Korea, but her schedule is a mix of different mediums.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

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