All you need is love?

Filed under: Hidden Orlando |

If you’ve noticed a little more love in the air lately, thank Donna Dowless.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer recently appointed the local artist to the official position of — no kidding — “Ambassador of Love.”

In explaining the appointment, Dyer didn’t point to the city’s crime wave. Just the need for more kindness and beauty in the City Beautiful.

“I’ve known Donna for quite some time, and we talked about how to raise awareness of the arts and the importance of compassion and love in our community,” Dyer said.

The Dyer administration crafted a formal proclamation, the City Council voted unanimously, and now Orlando has a love ambassador.

Dowless would seem the natural choice for the post. Her mixed-media art is known for its focus on love, from crimson lips to her trademark hearts. Celebrity owners of her work include Celine Dion, Naomi Judd, Rosie O’Donnell and Cher.

As ambassador, the sprightly Dowless goes around bestowing blessings of love on downtown pedestrians, construction workers and pretty much whomever else she runs into.

“I believe in the power of love and what it can do,” she said. “It’s just an amazing thing when you extend love to friends, to family, to humanity.”

When she stops strangers on the street, Dowless introduces herself as Orlando’s official ambassador of love and explains that she’d like to bless them.

Mike Amato of St. Cloud at first seemed understandably wary when Dowless approached him as he stepped out of a downtown Starbucks with his son, Hunter, on Friday. But that changed after she announced her formal position and explained her mission to spread City Hall’s love.

“I think through love, one heart at a time, we can make a difference in the world,” she said.

She reached into her black velvet bag, took out a pair of quarter-sized glass hearts and pressed one into each of their hands. (There are different colors with different meanings; for example, clear for strength. Dowless doesn’t know which shade she’ll find until her hand emerges from her bag of love.)

“I certainly didn’t expect it, but it’s a pretty cool idea,” Amato said. “Everybody seems afraid to even say ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore, so it’s really kind of nice.”

Orlando may be the only city in the country with a love ambassador. An Internet search for “ambassador of love” turned up poetry and a few adult Web sites, but no diplomatic posts.

Still, the appointment isn’t without precedent. In 1970, President Nixon appointed singer and Broadway actress Pearl Bailey the country’s Ambassador of Love. She requested the title “Roving Ambassador of Love,” quipping, “Honey, I get around a lot.” She was later a special delegate to the United Nations under the Ford, Reagan and Bush administrations.

As Orlando’s ambassador, Dowless doesn’t receive a salary or perks such as diplomatic license plates or free travel.

“I don’t know of any international love fest that we’d send her to,” said Dyer, who gave Dowless free rein to figure out what exactly a love ambassador should do. So far, she has blessed the grand opening of a Church Street tapas bar and bestowed countless personal blessings.

The world can be a pretty cynical place. But Dowless said the response to her blessings has been overwhelming. People carry the glass hearts with them, and some have told her stories of passing them on to someone else. One of her hearts ended up with a man who took it along to his cancer treatments.

When she walks past a downtown construction site, workers sometimes yell, ‘Ambassador!’ to get her attention. Then they reach into a pocket, pull out the glass heart she’s given them and hold it aloft to show their appreciation.

“People are just taken away by it,” she said. “Sometimes we just need a reminder that we make a difference.”

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