Veteran arts administrator Flora Maria Garcia prepares to take the helm at United Arts of Central Florida in the middle of an economic crisis. Can she make a difference?
Published: May 31, 2012
It may seem like only yesterday, but former president and CEO of United Arts of Central Florida Margot Knight has been gone for nearly seven months, leaving the region's largest arts-supporting organization without a leader (two leading board members stepped in during the absence of leadership). Even before Knight's departure, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners began questioning its own contributions to the agency, while the local television media – always hot for some slack-jawed outrage – wondered whether United Arts should be handling the $3.2 million the county receives from the tourist tax or the $668,000 it gets in county funding. Arts funding has always been low-hanging fruit for politicians, and that's especially the case here in Orange County.
For Flora Maria Garcia – who spent the last five years as CEO of the Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition (that organization was abruptly dissolved on May 24; Garcia was one of its only two employees), following gigs in similar posts in Fort Worth and Missouri – it's a familiar challenge. She's been facing it for nearly 30 years.
“With such a large creative sector and so many incredible cultural offerings, the region is well underway in leveraging the arts as economic drivers,” she said in an April 23 press release announcing her new leadership role with United Arts.
Garcia joins the agency this week with a lot on her plate: The ever-shifting divisions within the arts community loom large beneath the shadow of an expensive – and culturally incomplete – performing arts center in progress. She also arrives just as United Arts is launching its grass-roots fundraising campaign, the Art of Giving, via QR codes and social media (June 1–17; theartsmatter.com). The times are clearly changing, so we reached Garcia by phone to ask her what she's going to bring to the table.
“Cultural communities are pretty much the same everywhere,” she says. “Everybody needs more money. Everybody's in desperate straits. The artists feel they're not getting paid enough attention. I want to learn all about the artist community.” That she will.
OW: Your history seems to be one of working with government agencies, both in Atlanta and Fort Worth, to increase public-sector funding. From what I understand about United Arts here, a lot of the concern is with private-sector funding.
Garcia: It's a mixed bag, because they get money from the city and the county. A portfolio of funding is more diversified and I think it's smarter. In Fort Worth, the portfolio was diversified just like United Arts: private sector, city and county – so it's very similar. The agencies that are most comparable are the Fort Worth county arts council – that was a United Arts fund, and the goal there was to increase public-sector funding because a majority there was private-sector funding, and the public sector wasn't doing its fair share. The goal there was to inform and to educate so that the public sector would be equal to the private sector. That's what happened.
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