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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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I definitely think so. I never think of situations as an either-or situation. I think of situations as “in addition to.” I think having a major hall downtown is really important for the community. It's going to be really important for the cultural organizations. It's going to bring a ton more people downtown. There's a huge revitalizing factor, if revitalization is needed downtown – I don't think it is. But it's going to bring a lot of people to the downtown area. It's going to bring new art forms to the community. I think it's going to be good for everybody.

Well, that depends on whether DPAC actually moves forward with phase two, which would include the local arts groups in the equation, right?

My sense from talking to the leadership involved in that project is that they want the same thing that the cultural community wants. Everybody wants the same thing; it's just a matter of how you get the funds. … But I do believe that the venue, first of all, is important to have because the current venue [the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre] really is not a suitable place for the cultural groups. I actually went to see the symphony there, and I thought it was pretty decent. It worked. From what I had heard, I had expectations of it being horrible. It was fine. I do believe having a major new hall downtown is important, and I believe it's all going to work out. There's always a dynamic tension about scheduling and who gets the best dates, but that is the devil you have to deal with.

Without a figurehead leading United Arts for so long, there has been some question as to whether the organization is necessary. Why not just donate directly to the individual arts groups?

I think it's super important and I think for a lot of businesses, a lot of individuals, having United Arts is like having one-stop shopping that also does a thorough review process of cultural organizations and it holds the groups accountable and it makes sure that the contributed dollars are spent wisely and distributed appropriately among the broadest range of cultural organizations. I think it's really important to give to a broad range of organizations, because that's sort of how you feed your infrastructure. The whole cultural fiber of a community is lots of organizations and individual artists doing lots of interesting things.

What's your fundraising pitch?

I think you have to make a compelling argument as to why it's important to give through United Arts, and it's really important to make it easy for corporations to give – it's one-stop shopping.

The education program that they support about getting the arts into the schools, especially now, in the last 20 years, where there have been significant cutbacks to education, and the arts are the first to go. This is one way to make sure that children get access and exposure to live arts events. I do believe that a community has a responsibility to support these kinds of initiatives. And it also provides access to people who normally would not have access. So it really democratizes the arts as opposed to keeping the arts only for the people who can afford to pay the ticket prices.

Are you prepared to be completely transparent on the financial side?

Yeah! Why not? To me the more transparent you are – you have to be ethical, you have to be transparent, you have to be above-board – to me, that just creates the credibility that you need for people to believe in the work you're doing.

Last question. Are you excited?

I'm excited! I love coming into a new community and learning about it and seeing what the opportunities are and identifying the true challenges. I like challenges. That's what gets me excited about going to a place: trying to solve the puzzle, figure out where the issues are, and what are the paths to find answers.

Some things are going to be really quick and clear, and other things are going to take longer. But I'm big on consensus-building. I'm big on making no assumptions about a place that I move to. I'm going to take a few months to learn as much as I can. You know, I've done this before.

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