The best way to escape the heat and have some fun at the same time is to sample some of the cool arts offerings around town. Literally cool, as in air-conditioned, and cool-exciting, cool-wonderful, cool-cool … you get the idea.

Music and dance

While most arts organizations take a break or lighten up their schedules in July and August, a few gear up for their showcase events. Such is the case with the Cactus Pear Music Festival (CPMF) and the Third Coast Rhythm Project festival (TCRP). As in previous years, the 15th annual Cactus Pear will fill halls in San Antonio, Boerne and New Braunfels with beautiful chamber music July 7-17. With concerts bearing enticing names such as Zephyr Wind and Buried Treasures, the four different programs will feature a great variety of works by Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Mahler and Glazunov as well as pieces by somewhat less known luminaries such as Hungarian composers Zoltan Kodaly and Erno Dohnanyi, Czech composer Zdenek Fibich and Anton Arensky from Russia. These musical gems, buried or wind-blown, will be brought to life by 17 outstanding musicians, including fest founder Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and at least two artists who will make their CPMF debuts this year — the Israeli-American violinist Carmit Zori and the San Antonio International Piano Competition 2009 winner Ryo Yanagitani.

The Third Coast Rhythm Project celebrates a very different form of art: the uniquely American percussive dance tradition better known as tap dancing. Scheduled for July 21-24, the fest brings to town some 200 dancers, choreographers, educators and rhythm explorers who take part in workshops, classes, film screenings and jam sessions, culminating with a final gala show, Jazz on Tap, which is open to the public. The latter features only top masters of the genre, such as Acia Gray and her Austin-based Tapestry Dance Company; the internationally acclaimed Max Pollak of Rumba Tap; well-known teacher Dianne “Lady Di” Walker; virtuosos like Jay Fagan and Derick Grant; the young star Lisa La Touche; and San Antonio’s first lady of tap, Barbara Phillips. Cool music is also scheduled for the always-cool Majestic Theatre, starting with the Latin megastar Julio Iglesias on July 14. In his long career, Iglesias has performed more than 5,000 concerts in 600 cities around the world, recorded 79 albums and sold 300 million copies of them. His appearance here is sponsored by ARTS San Antonio. Just a day later, the Majestic will play host to comedian George Lopez and a week after that to revered guitarist Ottmar Liebert and his ensemble, Luna Negra (July 21).

The August lineup includes the legendary band Chicago (Aug.5), Merle Haggard (Aug. 10), and Steve Martin appearing with the wonderful bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers (Aug. 26). The multitalented Martin can also play the banjo pretty well, it seems. For lovers of flamenco — and their numbers seem to be multiplying every year — the enterprising Tamara Saj, who moved here a couple of years ago and started producing her own shows, is producing a new one, Arte y Pasión, July 30-31 at the Little Carver. For the occasion, she is bringing to town the Spanish-born and trained Antonio Arrebola and one the best-known American masters of the genre, Teo Morca.

Visual arts

Museums and galleries are always cool places to visit in both senses mentioned above, but you may want to sweat a little for the sake of seeing some super cool sculptures at the Botanical Garden this summer. Organized in conjunction with the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, this year’s Art in the Garden: Texas Uprising features nine sculptors chosen by New York-based curator Lilly Wei. The second, complementary part of Texas Uprising is shown indoors at Blue Star and showcases the work of another 10 artists. All are members of the Texas Sculpture Group. Blue Star is also hosting Icelandic sculptor Gudjon Bjarnason as part of the center’s International Initiatives program, designed “to reach out to artists worldwide.” Over at the Southwest School of Art, you can enjoy a great variety of artwork created by faculty and students in the All School Exhibition 2011 through Aug. 14. Other exhibits at the school include Uncommon Elements, featuring paintings by Michelle Belto; porcelain and earthenware ceramics by Cecilia Castro Hancock; and an exhibit of Beatles-inspired artwork produced by teen students.

For a different kind of visual experience, visit the McNay Art Museum and see a few good movies. Yes, movies! In conjunction with its exhibit of modernist designer George Nelson’s furniture, the McNay has scheduled a series of movies from the 1950s—Suits & Sleuths: Midcentury Modernism in Film to be shown on Sundays from July 10 through Aug.7. Among the five selections are Executive Suite, starring William Holden and Frederick March, and North by Northwest, a spy story featuring James Mason, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.

Theater

Choices are fewer this time of the year, but there are some good ones. The still young but amazingly successful Overtime Theater, which specializes in original plays and new adaptations of classics, is presenting Life or a Reasonable Approximation Thereof by local playwright Michael Burger (July 8-Aug. 6). Another relatively young company, the Trinity University-based AtticRep has already established a reputation for choosing challenging themes, and this summer is no exception. Opening Aug. 18 is the dark and provocative comedic take on parenting called Smudge, written by two-time Emmy winner Rachel Axler. Not for children or the faint of heart. On a more cheerful side, the San Pedro Playhouse has scheduled two fun productions — the musical The King and I on the main stage (July 15–Aug. 21) and a more traditional comedy, Wild Oats, by John O’Keefe, the Irish writer some have credited with reviving thespian comedy in the 1700s (Aug.5 – Aug. 29).

So, get out of the heat and explore the cool fun!