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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

United Arts of Central Florida, which promotes and fundraises for arts-related programs in the region, was hired by Kinson to assist with the process by holding a series of meetings in which to discuss alliances between the two organizations. United Arts was hired for a fee of $10,000, which was donated by the city of Maitland and the Community Foundation of Central Florida.

“I’ve never seen so much emotion from the community about an issue that amounted to nothing except fear of change,” says Margot Knight, executive director and CEO of United Arts. Knight says that three lawyers donated their time to help piece together wills, documents and legal decisions dating back to when the Maitland Art Center was still known as the Research Studio. In the end, she says, lawyers “determined the center was not a public charitable trust, but owned by the city of Maitland.” Which meant that it did not need to put the vote before membership to make the merger decision and could move forward with its plans to merge with the Historical Society. She says the decision will, in the end, be a win for both organizations.

But Orr and Hurt fear that the art center’s identity is at stake. They say the city has a pattern of not living up to its obligations to the center, and this is just another example of its lack of interest in its identity. For instance, when longtime executive director James “Gerry” Shepp resigned in January 2009 after 26 and a half years, he wasn’t replaced.

“A new board came in, in 2008, with new ideas for the art center, and we didn’t exactly mesh,” Shepp says, when asked why he stepped down. “So I decided to move up the date of my retirement.”

Orr says the board said it was conducting a search to fill the position, but that never happened. Instead, both organizations decided to put a freeze on new hires until negotiations for the merger could be completed. It was very frustrating, says Hurt, and no one was forthcoming about what was happening.

Shepp had always advocated for the center and made sure the bills were paid, Hurt says. After he left, annual fundraising events were canceled and what maintenance was done – repairs to crumbling cement structures, for instance – were not done in keeping with historic renovation. Orr says the permanent collection has not been well cared for either, though he declines to give more specifics.

After the merger, several longtime employees of the Maitland Art Center were fired. The local artist who goes only by the name Kyle, who had lived on the grounds of the center for 17 years and worked as its caretaker, was asked to leave. (His wife, Gloria Capozzi, has maintained her job there as director of program marketing.) Richard Colvin, the center’s curator, quit when his wife, Ann Colvin, lost her position as coordinator of education; later, he decided to return in the same capacity.

Bailey Cox says it was unfortunate that some staff members had to be let go, but it was “because of the economics” and part of “creating a better service to the community.”

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