By Michelle Spitzer

Neil Levine is in disbelief when he hears people say the Space Coast is lacking an arts scene.

“They are just wrong,” Neil said, as the executive director of the Brevard Cultural Alliance. “I am amazed at the offerings here and disappointed when people say there is not a great deal of cultural.”

Neil said some major, exciting events are in the works, although he could not elaborate due to contract negotiations. He did, however, give a hint.

“Runaway Country will be huge, major, fantastic,” Neil said referring to the three-day country music festival held in Melbourne from March 21-23.

The northern end of the county also has a few new events.

A digital arts festival will take place October 4 – 13 in Titusville. This is the first year for the Art & Algorithms festival, however, Levine said it is anticipated to be a yearly event.

Attendees will be treated to 90 short films from Europe, digital photographic arts, graffiti and huge scale building projects, among other exhibits. “There will be something for everyone from 3 to 73 to play with,” Neil said. The festival is an attempt to help reenergize the arts scene in the northern end of the county.

In addition to the digital arts festival, there’s a new art gallery in Titusville. Hang Ups Art Gallery & Workshops opened its doors for business March 2. Gary Marchesano acquired the space after moving here from Northern Nevada last year and wanting somewhere he could practice his craft, including acryl- ics, landscapes, oils and just about everything in between. He realized the studio would make a perfect gallery and decided to open it to other artists.

It’s modeled after boutique-type galleries often seen in California. “It’s almost like a museum,” Gary said. “We don’t make use of every square inch. We like the comfortable, unclut- tered feel so we are able to be very selective in choosing artists.” There are at least five art forms on display at all times, but Gary said the pieces vary greatly and typically represent different types of art.

So far the showings have been well received. “I’m shocked at the response I have gotten from the community,” Gary said. “People are so glad the gallery is open here in Titusville.”

The community also has Stonefire Art Studios & Gallery, which was founded by Maxine Trainer. It has become a working arts studio that features everything from children’s classes to musical jam sessions and poetry workshops.

Whether you’re in Palm Bay or Mims, Levine encourages Brevardians to get out and experience all the art offerings available on the Space Coast. “The future for Brevard’s cultural scene is really bright,” he said. “People need to participate by immersing themselves and supporting the arts. That may be attending an event, joining a board or volunteering. It will repay you 30 times over.” For more information visit

Derek Gores

Collage and mixed media artist
Co-founder/creative director of the EGAD! Art Lab
Age: 42
Born in New York, Gores’ family moved to Brevard County when he was young. After studying at Rhode Island School of Design and working in Tampa, he returned in 2007, “Because I thought it would be a good place to raise my kids. We’re in a unique spot here — you can go to the beach and go to the moon.“Everybody has something you do as a kid, for me it was drawing. Drawing was my thing, something passionate that others could see too. I just kept at it and fortunately my parents helped me to pursue it in school.”His work was selected for the Manifest Hope: DC exhibit, coinciding with the Presidential Inauguration in 2009, and he was named one of the 40 important artists of the New Contemporary Movement during a 2010 exhibit in London.

“My art is a study of life force. I like my pictures to barely come together with teasing little details. The mind can’t help but wander, even when trying to focus on one thing. In the collages, some of the little bits I use are delib- erate, but I’m after an end result more interesting than I could have planned. One friend calls it a ‘Zen Narrative.’”

Gores’ “More Than Meets The Eye,” was selected as the official artwork for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby. This month he will reveal his commemorative poster for the second biennial Windsor Charity Polo Cup in Vero Beach, taking place in February.

Two years ago Gores and Heather Everett founded the EGAD! Art Lab. The gallery and studio features interactive events, a working studio, classes and contemporary exhibits.

Vicki Damon

Handpainted silk artist, including wearable art
Age: 51
Family: Husband, Peter

For nearly 20 years, Vicki Damon worked in corporate America and barely practiced her first love: art.

Then a chance meeting in the Bahamas introduced her to the man she loves while also bring- ing her back to her first passion. The 51-year-old originally from New York started her art career painting, but put the brush down while making a living in the technology field.

While on vacation in the Bahamas, Damon met a man named Peter who was there vacationing on his boat. The two hit it off instantly and Damon left her job to join Peter as they cruised the waters.

The new lifestyle allowed her to return to art, this time creating hand-painted silk wearable art. Her collection includes everything from tunics, to dresses to wraps, as well as custom pieces.

Most of her line is inspired by the colors of the Caribbean, a frequent travel spot for her and her husband.

“It’s flirty, it’s sophisticated, it’s a twist on a bold idea,” Damon said. “It’s great to know people are loving the art, wearing it and getting the most out of it.”

When not traveling, Vicki teaches workshops on silk at Ralph’s Art Supply in Melbourne. Her beginners’ silk workshop will be taught on September 7 and 26. To reserve a space email

Christine Brandt

Owner and creative director at Backstage Arts on Merritt Island
Age: 36
Family: Husband, Ryan, son Matthew, 8, and daughter Sophia, 5
Contact: Backstage Arts or call (321) 427-3263 

As a 4-year-old growing up in Brevard County, Christine Brandt would stand in her living room while belting out tunes and showing off her dance skills.

Her parents recognized her talents and signed their daughter up for dance classes, which led to voice lessons and an interest in the performing arts. The Satellite Beach High graduate went on to study musical theater in college and have a career that included working for Walt Disney World,

Universal and national touring companies. These days, the 36-year-old married mother of two recognizes the talents she had as a young girl in some of Brevard’s rising stars. Christine is owner and artistic director of Backstage Arts on Merritt Island. Since opening in August 2011, nearly 200 students have come through Backstage Arts taking everything from dance lessons

to voice lessons to acting lessons.
“As a teacher it’s very fulfilling seeing

students soaking up this knowledge and applying it in all aspects of life,” said Brandt, who is a Dance Masters of America certified educator. She often sees herself in some of the students she teaches.

“One little girl said to me, ‘I just love standing in fourth position,’” Christine said referring to the ballet stance. “Not a lot of kids would say that, but I probably did. I see the exact same energy I had in some of the students and it’s absolutely wonderful.”

Staci Cleveland

Primary Conductor for Melbourne Municipal Band
Age: 43
Family: Husband, David, daughter Emma, 14, son Ben, 12
Contact: Melbourne Municipal Band 

This September, Staci Cleveland will start her fourth season as primary conductor for the Melbourne Municipal Band.

Staci is just the third conductor, and first female, to lead the band since its inception in 1965.

“I really enjoy this job,” she said, who played flute with the band for 10 years before being named conductor. “I know everyone really well. They are my friends, my family and we just have a lot of fun together, which is really important.”

The 85-plus member band plays about 14 free concerts a year. Most are held at the Melbourne Auditorium. The band does play the occasional special event, like parades, graduations or other ceremonies.

Staci, a University of Florida graduate, is hoping to expand the band’s audience to a younger crowd. Its first concert this year, September 25 and 26, is titled “Heroes, Nerds and Trekkies.”

Herself a Trekkie, aka Star Trek fan, Staci said the concert will feature music from “The Simpsons,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Indiana Jones” and of course “Star Trek.”

“A live concert is always so much fun and so different than listening to music in your ears with your headphones.”

Deb Oller

Artist whose work includes portraits, murals, scenery, wildlife and more
Age: 45
Family: Two daughters, Whitney, 23, and Alicia, 20

Deb Oller’s artistic talents adapt to her surroundings. When she lived in the St. Louis area, she was successful with ink drawings. She moved to Montana and started oil paintings of local scenery and wildlife, which was a big hit.

Then it was off to California where por- traits were the big thing. At one point she said she was booked five years in advance.

Deb came to the Space Coast 13 years

ago and someone told her Brevardians pre- ferred murals in their homes to portraits.

And so the 45-year-old mother of two expanded her portfolio once again. Ninety percent of her work is murals, although she’s not limited.

“I can do any style anyone wants,” she said. “I do it all.”

Her latest creations are prints of original paintings on wood. The pieces are of places

she’s been — the Versailles Garden in France, the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland and Michelangelo Square in Florence.

Each piece includes a story card she wrote explaining the scene.

“I want people to truly feel what I felt when I was there,” Deb said. “”This is a way for them to not only see, but also read about it, which can help take them to that place even more.”