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Cover Story

The art of the deal 

Devotees of the Maitland Art Center fear a recent merger threatens its future

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

Hero Worship: Longtime colleagues (l-r) Bill Orr and Maury Hurt, pictured in the outdoor chapel at the Maitland Art Center, want to preserve the work of its founder, Jules André Smith

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

Two of the Research Studio’s devoted artists, Bill Orr and Maury Hurt, stepped in to keep that from happening. They brought a lawsuit against the Central Florida Museum in 1965 to keep it from being sold. The suit was successful, and in 1969 the facility was declared a public charitable trust by an Orange County judge. The property would belong to the city of Maitland, which leased it for a nominal fee to the trustees of a nonprofit board that would run the art center and maintain a collection of Smith’s artwork. The mission of the organization, which was dubbed the Maitland Art Association, would be “to promote, develop and augment the study and development of art and culture in the City of Maitland Florida area,” according to nonprofit documents filed with the IRS. The Maitland Art Center has been a focal point for the arts in Central Florida for the last 40 years.

With a decision in May that surprised and angered some of the center’s members, the executive board of the Maitland Art Association agreed to merge with another cultural institution, the Maitland Historical Society, which operates the Maitland Historical Museum, the Telephone Museum, the Waterhouse Residence Museum and the Carpentry Shop Museum. The merger combines the administrations of the two organizations under the auspices of the Maitland Art and History Association.

Board members in favor of the merger say the benefits to both organizations can’t be discounted: They can accelerate their respective visions by streamlining and combining staff, membership and resources; the organizations can operate more efficiently, proponents say, so more money can be put toward programming, outreach and fundraising; the merger will help raise the profile of both organizations and hopefully attract more visitors – and dollars – to the facilities.

But those who oppose it, including Orr (who, along with Hurt, served as a trustee emeritus of the Maitland Art Association board, and has been grandfathered into the new organization’s board as well), Hurt and just a handful of others willing to go on record with their concerns, say the merger is suspect. They say the city, which promised in the 1960s to build a new museum dedicated to exhibiting the works of Smith, has neglected the Maitland Art Center and doesn’t have its best interests in mind. In addition, Orr and Hurt say the city has failed to properly maintain the property and buildings. They also think the city would like to avoid having to make good on the decades-old promise to build the new museum.

Further, they say, the merger violates the organization’s bylaws, which state that any vote of the art center’s governing body must also go before its entire membership (there were 500 members prior to the merger) before it can be approved. Orr, who is now in his 80s, says that even though the merger has been pushed through, the boards consolidated and a new staffing structure put in place, he may make a legal challenge to the merger.

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