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Exit Stage Knight

Departing United Arts President and CEO Margot Knight recounts her decade of creativity amid chaos

Photo: Chieu Nguyen, License: N/A

Chieu Nguyen

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

All of our papers are in order,” Margot Knight says into her cell phone. “Don’t worry about the lease. Everything is going to be OK.”

It’s somehow fitting that during the last week of Knight’s reign as the president and chief executive officer of the region’s central arts funding organization, United Arts of Central Florida, everything doesn’t seem to be OK at all. Just the week before our interview, Orange County Commissioner Ted Edwards called into question $150,000 of a total $3 million funding package for local arts before the Board of County Commissioners. Then, on Oct. 27 (the day that we took the photos for this story), WFTV Channel 9 news raised an even bigger specter of doubt, conflating all of the county’s arts funding – $3.2 million from tourist development taxes and $668,000 from the general fund – into a $4 million dollar call for populist outcry.

“It’s troubling, especially in these economic times, we are giving to these elitist groups with no accountability,” Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer told the station.

It’s tough not to see this as something of a conspiratorial stab at United Arts – the group partially formed by Orange County in 1989 to outsource the management of arts funding – on the occasion of Knight’s high-profile dismount. Knight, however, says she “hopes” that there’s not that much nefarious strategy going on here.

But the outgoing arts leader is no stranger to controversy. Despite her apparent caution in media circles, she’s been the subject of numerous smear campaigns on the cocktail-party circuit: that she’s a “queen” bitch, that she’s engaging in a lesbian affair with a certain Orange County official, that she’s a former go-go dancer. “That last one is true,” she laughs. She also became a pariah with the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts crowd, which went so far as to knock her off its board before (allegedly) starting many of the aforementioned rumors.

No surprise, then, that Knight is moving on to greener, more serene pastures. This month she takes her position as executive director of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, Calif., where she’ll work more directly with individual artists and keep a safe distance from the pettiness of local politics. Before she left, we grabbed her for a lunchtime glass of wine to lubricate the exit interview that she always promised us, should the time ever come. Turns out the self-professed “fake hippie” (“I always had a job,” she says) isn’t one for sour grapes.

Orlando Weekly: You’ve been here 10 years.

Margot Knight: Almost 10 years exactly. Trust me, they were supposed to offer me the position on Sept. 11, 2001, and my ex-husband had already given notice that morning and called me to say ‘I’ve given notice.’ And I said, ‘Well, it got delayed. We’re supposed to meet at the SunTrust building to finalize the offer.’

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