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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

Bailey Cox says the merger could also help the Maitland Art Center make its case that the property, which is already on the National Register of Historic Places, ought to be designated a National Historic Landmark. That would open the doors to additional funding for the center’s programming, she says.

The center’s reputation as a cultural icon would be helped, not hindered by this merger: “It’ll be everything you know and love, and better,” she says.


In many respects, the merger does look like a no-brainer.

Both the Maitland Art Center and the Maitland Historical Society seek to preserve a piece of old Florida history. Both organizations operate facilities on land owned by the city of Maitland. And according to a list of answers to frequently asked questions about the merger posted on the Maitland Historical Society’s website, the possibility of a “combined campus” would turn the facilities into an “enriched cultural destination” that could draw more visitors (and, of course, more money and public support) to both centers.

In the spring, when talks about the merger were at their peak, Jerry and Gayle Bell, concerned devotees of the Maitland Art Center, started a blog that raised questions about the motivation behind the merger. They posted a petition asking the organization’s board to reject the notion of merging the organizations.

“The Maitland Art Center is a priceless asset to the community, as well as a public charitable trust for the people of Florida, whose purpose, as ruled by the Florida courts, is strictly for artistic and cultural pursuits,” the preamble to the petition read. “The Center is not only important to the local artistic community, but is a national and international architectural and artistic treasure. We, the undersigned, request that a comprehensive written plan be presented publicly to address all of our concerns that there will be no violations to the Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws, including the right of members to vote on important changes such as this, and that the merger will not negatively impact the stated mission for MAC.”

According to the Bells, the organization’s bylaws make it clear that the membership of the organization should vote on the merger. Instead, the arts center’s executive committee and board approved it without putting it to a membership vote. They say any of the meetings held before the vote took place failed to answer questions they and others had about the merger. Some meetings of the executive committee and board were held behind closed doors and may have been held in violation the state’s Sunshine Laws, the Bells say.

“We were also told by a board member that the merger is a simple administrative change, yet they had six lawyers working on it, would not tell the membership what they were proposing, wouldn’t allow them to vote on it as required,” says Gayle Bell in an e-mail to Orlando Weekly. “And a well-known figure in the art world was highly paid as a consultant to push the merger through. It seems disingenuous to argue that a ‘simple administration’ change would require so much secrecy and heavy artillery.”

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