There IS life beyond Disneyworld and Universal Studios in Orlando,and the treasure trove in this well-kept secret provides some interesting possibilities for Atlanta and other southern cities. With the economy cooling down a tad, everyone in tourism is looking for new ways to bring in visitors and keep them around for a few extra days. The good news is that Orlando has found the secret.

Under the leadership of Dublin, Ireland native MaureenBrigid Gonzalez, members of central Florida’s arts and sciences community formed a strategic alliance in 1996 to promote tourism in the Orlando area. The public/private partnership is spearheaded by The Peabody Orlando, a luxury facility which Gonzalez serves very well in her position as public relations director. Calling itself the Orlando Peabody Alliance for Arts and Culture (OPAAC), the participating organizations include the American Jewish Ballet, Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum (at Rollins College), Maitland Art Center, Mennello Museum of American Folk Art, Orlando Opera Company, the Orlando Philharmonic and Southern Ballet Company. And, the membership is growing.

Ms. Gonzalez, a peppery lady whose smiles and kind words mask a ferocious determination to keep OPAAC’s mission on the ascendant, maintains that cultural tourism “is the fastest-growing segment of tourism that exists today on this planet.” She sees her organization’s role as ancillary to the tourism magnet of Disney and its progeny. “We’re in competition with no commercial enterprise,” she explains. “We pool resources and work together towards a common goal of gaining nationwide recognition of Orlando’s thriving arts and cultural scene.” Whether by design or not, OPAAC is an ongoing success. As a consequence it has won the support of a broad cross-section of central Florida leadership, including Orlando’s Mayor and other public-spirited officials.

Annually, OPAAC hosts travel writers from throughout the continent, exposing them to the “other Orlando”. This year’s tour was a whirlwind visit to impressive galleries, museums, workshops mixed together with the spectacular. Bizet’s “Carmen”, with acclaimed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves topped off three days that included an exhibition of rare paintings of Cosimo Rosselli, painter of the Sistine Chapel, at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the campus of Rollins College in nearby Winter Park.

Interspersed with these spectaculars, writers had the rare the opportunity to see and hear Nobel-Laureate Ellie Wiesel, tour the Maitland Arts Center and picnic on the lovely grounds of The Allen Polasek Sculpture Garden and Galleries.

And, if there was one exhibition that left visitors breathless, the assemblage of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany at Winter Park’s Morse Museum was the front-runner for excitement. For the uninitiated (including awed journalists), Tiffany was revealed as a stained glass craftsman on par with those artists who provided Europe’s Cathedrals with windows decorated with universal themes. Yes, Tiffany is much more than lamps.

What MaureenBrigid Gonzalez has created is a cultural chamber of commerce, and OPAAC serves an economic function for the Orlando business community that parallels and supplements the traditional promotional goals of Chambers of Commerce. With a combination of education and promotion, OPAAC is telling the world that Mickey Mouse has some very interesting neighbors with some wonderful things to offer mom and dad. In other words, stay around Orlando for a few extra days, and behold the sculpture, paintings, architecture and fabulous music, including the tuxedoed trio singing and playing nightly in the Peabody atrium.

Imagine Atlanta with a counterpart to OPAAC. How our conventioneers and Braves fans would love to really know about The Michael Carlos Museum at Emory University along with Degas at the High Museum. Wouldn’t they love a day at DeKalb’s Primitive Eye Folk Art Gallery before attending a performance at Stone Mountain’s wonderful Art Station Gallery, followed the next day with a concert at world-acclaimed Spivey Hall. With a little advance planning, a picnic lunch could be served on the beautiful grounds of The Margaret Mitchell House on Peachtree, followed by a tour of local architectural wonders beginning with The Swan House.

This is beginning to sound like a good idea!

The “other Atlanta”- -life beyond the Braves and pop concerts- needs coordinated promotion that largely Balkanized arts councils simply cannot provide. MaureenBrigid Gonzalez has a counterpart here somewhere, and there are luxury hotels with lots of interest in our exceptional cultural community who would seriously consider a leading role. It is good business for everyone.

With the convention business dropping a little, maybe the Atlanta Alliance for the Arts and Culture is an idea whose time has come. If there are any doubts, just ask Orlando’s most famous resident. His name is Mickey

A troupe of Mallards known to admirers as The Marching Ducks can be seen on parade in the atrium of the Peabody Orlando, one of the city's premier luxury hotels. Along with the American Jewish Ballet, Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum (at Rollins College), Maitland Art Center, Mennello Museum of American Folk Art, Orlando Opera Company, the Orlando Philharmonic and the Southern Ballet Company, the Peabody Orlando is a major sponsor of OPAAC.


ORLANDO, FLA. Barry Anderson, vice president of marketing, Peabody Hotel Group, has announced the promotion of MaureenBrigid Gonzalez, director of public relations, The Peabody Orlando, to director of corporate communications for Peabody Hotel Group.

"MaureenBrigid will have primary responsibility for the three Peabody-flagged hotels: The Peabody Orlando, The Peabody Memphis and coming in January, 2002, The Peabody Little Rock. She will have secondary responsibility for the remaining franchise properties of Peabody Hotel Group," said Anderson.

"Since joining our hotel in 1996, MaureenBrigid has taken The Peabody Orlando to new heights, creating and implementing innovative public relations, media relations and internal communications programs.

"At this crucial time of Peabody Hotel Group growth, it is imperative that we create consistent communications within our hotels to present brand consistency, externally and internally," concluded Anderson.

Gonzalez, a native of Dublin, Ireland, holds two advanced degrees in English literature from universities in Ireland and the U.K. Before moving to Orlando, she worked in several prestigious organizations including the Irish Tourist Board in Dublin, the United Nations and the World Health Organization in Geneva.

She has received numerous public relations and communications awards, among them the World Travel Committee's 2000 "Woman of the Year" Award, which has been called the “Nobel Prize” of the travel industry.

These honors are largely generated by Gonzalez’ tireless efforts on behalf of the Orlando Peabody Alliance for the Arts & Culture, (OPAAC), which she founded and heads. It’s purpose, says Gonzalez, “ is to showcase the music, architecture, visual arts, and museums of our great community to visitors who come to us from all over the world.” She added that the cultural diversity which abounds in the Orlando area “serves to make our message even more interesting.” Gonzalez has also been recognized for her work with the Department of the Interior on behalf of conservation and preservation of North American migratory wildfowl.

Earlier this year Dr. Robert Williams, a distinguished professor of music at Florida's Bethune-Cookman College presented Gonzalez with a Certificate of Associate Status, another official recognition of this lady's devotion to arts and culture. The ceremony was dignified and quiet, just the way Gonzalez carefully crafts each moment of each day to complete her mission to bring the arts into the spotlight of tourism.

Gonzalez is married to U.S. foreign correspondent/travel writer, Arky Gonzalez, and continues to be based at The Peabody Orlando.

Dr. Robert Williams of Bethune-Cookman College and the Negro Spiritual Scholarship Foundation, presenting Gonzalez with a Certificate of Associate Status in recognition of her and the Peabody hotel chain's support of the arts and culture.

Interesting links:

The Michael Carlos Museum, Emory, Atlanta

The High Museum, Atlanta

The Frist Center, Nashville

Three unique galleries in New Orleans

Folk Art in the Big Easy

St. Louis Opera Theatre

Another interesting Florida city - Pensacola

Live theater in Florida

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