Behind the scenes: Meet the group behind some of Central Florida’s immersive events

Creative City Project puts on several art events and performances, taking more than a year to put together

Behind the scenes with Creative City Project as they work on elements from “El Dia de Muertos,” part of the "Happy Frights" and "Haunting Nights" events (Creative City Project)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Lately, it seems like immersive art is becoming more and more popular here in Central Florida. Even though some events are around for just a few weeks, they can take more than a year to put together, with several artists behind that work.

One of the organizations behind these events is the nonprofit organization, Creative City Project. It got started in 2012, but it wasn’t even an official organization at the time. It was a group of creative friends.

“Sometimes, people miss so much of the great art and performance that happens in our city. So we decided to go to them,” said Cole NeSmith, Creative City Project founder.

What they did next jumpstarted a series of events and performances. They first put on an event in 2012, which was later called IMMERSE.

“It all started by a small group of us calling musician friends and asking them to play on the street corners downtown. Asking dancers to dance in vacant lots. We didn’t have any sound, lights, permits or permission. We just started doing things. All of that happened over the course of the month, and it gained traction,” NeSmith said.

They gained so much traction, they were able to collaborate with Cirque Du Soleil and bring their act to City Hall.

Some of Creative City Project's first events included a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil where a silks performer flew from the end of a crane (Creative City Project)

“About a thousand people showed. And it felt like something was brewing. There was a clear desire from the people of our community to experience art,” NeSmith said.

In 2013, they flew a Cirque du Soleil silks performer from the end of a crane. Then a few years later in 2016, they brought in two performers.

“I was seeing my friends having to move to other places in order to find jobs in their creative fields - music, design, film, dance, theater. And I wanted them to be able to find those opportunities here in Orlando. That’s no small task. It’s not just starting an event or a non-profit organization. It’s a big idea related to the entire ecosystem of a city - cultivating arts patrons, supporting a robust community of arts organizations and connecting the two,” NeSmith said.

In 2020, Creative City Project debuted their holiday event, “Dazzling Nights,” at Harry P. Leu Gardens. Now, the organization is a well-oiled machine working out of a warehouse and preparing new shows and events all year long.

NeSmith said their events are so extensive, they’re on a 15-month timeline with more than 1,000 people involved.

Their next big event is with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra at the Cheyenne Saloon and Opera House this weekend only.

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Rehearsal for “The Carnival of the Animals" show with the Orlando Philharmonic coming to the Cheyenne Saloon (Creative City Project)

The concert runs from Aug. 25-27 with two shows per night at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and it will feature the music of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns called “The Carnival of the Animals.”

They also have two events in September and October, bringing Halloween to life at Leu Gardens called “Happy Frights” and “Haunting Nights.”

“Happy Frights” is family-friendly trick-or-treating through 12 immersive worlds.

Then, once the sun goes down, “Haunting Nights” will feature an elevated experience with some thrilling surprises.

Large set pieces in Creative City Project's warehouse for “The Barracks," which is the pirate area of the "Happy Frights" and "Haunting Nights" events (Creative City Project)

Of course, they will cap off the year with their big holiday “Dazzling Nights” event, which is also at Leu Gardens.

“The more events and experiences we create, the more artists we can collaborate with, the more artists we can hire. That helps us with that initial dream of ensuring that creative people have work here in Orlando. It is just one more way artists can continue to call Orlando ‘home,’” NeSmith said.

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About the Author:

Brooke is a news producer and has been with News 6 since January 2018. She grew up in Coral Springs and graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism. Before she came back to Central Florida, she worked in Fort Myers.