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Floral arrangement

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?

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You can make the argument that arts attract new businesses, but to a lot of lazier public officials, as you likely know, the arts are the first thing they go after. Are you the type of advocate that is going to be able to come in here and speak truth to power like that?

Absolutely! That's what I've been doing for the last 30 years, and the reason the arguments have been successful is that they're based on good data, good research, and they speak to things that are important to elected officials: the economic impact of the arts. Here, the film industry has been huge. Just seeing what that return on investment is, it gets them to pay attention. You have to really be savvy with your facts. People don't go to great cities because they don't have good roads and they have potholes. They go to great cities because they have great art.

What was the interview process like for this position?

There were two times that I came down. The first was quick; it was about an hour-long interview at a hotel at the airport. Then they brought me back for about four days, and I suggested that they schedule me like crazy, because I was really interested in getting a flavor.

I met the chairmen of the symphony and the art museum. They were trying to keep my candidacy quiet because I was still employed, and so I didn't get to meet arts leaders; I met their board members. Because, you know, the world is small and everyone knows everybody. I met with the mayor and his chief of staff and some other staff and that was really interesting. What I was impressed with at City Hall, there's really good art in it. And the mayor is really big into the arts. And then I met with the folks that are developing the performing arts center. I met with a number of the board members for United Arts, some of the staff. It was intense! But it gave me a really good sense of the community.

There are a lot of people who say the arts community is somewhat fractious right now.

It's not as fractured as Atlanta is! Are you kidding? This place is very fractionalized in the sense that you have 10 different governments that are counties and you have city and everybody has a different point of view. I didn't get so much of that sense in Orlando. In fact, one of the questions that I asked was, “How do you all work together and collaborate and cooperate with each other?” The takeaway for me was that the leadership that I met was really excited about being there. They felt that it was a community that works well together, that diversity is important, and really that people just work together for the greater good. That reminded me a lot of Fort Worth.

Your predecessor, Margot Knight, was somewhat demonized by the leadership, at least behind the scenes. The advent of the performing arts center was part of that. Did you get a sense in meeting with DPAC leadership that there's a way for United Arts and the center to collaborate?

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