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Gwinnett has lots to offer arts lovers in 2006

New groups and events seem to pop up almost overnight in the ever-changing Gwinnett arts scene. That's a good sign: It reflects the energy and growing sophistication of the area's culture. It does mean, however, that a complete calendar of Gwinnett arts events for the coming year will always be a work in progress.

In this first part of a 2006 preview, let's consider some of the older and larger arts organizations and the big news they are generating:

•The Aurora Theatre is making a splash this year with a move from Duluth to Lawrenceville. After 10 years at its present location, the theater will open "Christmas Canteen" the day after Thanksgiving in its new digs.

"2006 is the year we will be preparing for our new home," Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez said. "2007 will be our first real season in the new theater, but we're well on pace to be moving in on time. Lawrenceville and the Aurora Theatre have partnered to create a theatrical space, with a small theater and a main stage, too, that will offer great opportunity and an economic boom for the whole area."

Associate producer Ann-Carol Pence is also excited about the coming year.

"New Year's 2006 means new beginnings," she said. "I'm so excited about this year. Everything is going so well. Our membership has gone past 2,000, and we can't wait to move into our big, beautiful 'castle.'"

•On May 20 and 21, the second Barefoot in the Park Arts Festival will be held at the Town Green in Duluth. Last year's event won "Best Downtown Special Event of 2005" in the statewide Georgia Downtown awards competition. Attendees can enjoy fine visual artists, local performing groups, food, fun and a special children's area during the free event.

•Gwinnett Ballet Theatre is another organization taking major steps in 2006. On the weekend of March 10-12, GBT will premiere "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center.

That in itself is noteworthy, but the biggest news is that the performers will be accompanied by live music. Under the direction of Predrag Gosta of the acclaimed New Trinity Baroque, the dancers will perform to Mendelssohn's beautiful score played by its own orchestra, an asset the group hopes to use frequently in the future. At the end of 2006, GBT will celebrate another milestone: the 25th anniversary of its production of "The Nutcracker."

•The Gwinnett Philharmonic's goal for the year is an emphasis on collaborations.

"The Gwinnett Philharmonic is excited to continue to expand its programming," Executive Director Cathy Grogan said. "We are also looking to work with other arts organizations in the Gwinnett area."

•In the visual arts arena, the Hudgens Arts Center will offer a blockbuster event this February. The museum will present "Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics," opening Feb. 3 and running through April 2. Sixty-five pieces created between 1947 and 1971 will be on view.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg. Next week, we'll take a look month by month at the many arts opportunities available to us here in Gwinnett.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail hcalmes@mindspring.com.