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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


But Hurt and Orr worry that those coming in to run the center aren’t tied to its history or lore and aren’t as invested in its future as those who have put in so much time and effort to care for it.

“The real jewel is the architecture of the buildings designed by Smith,” Hurt says. “They are a work of genius that need to be taken care of.”

•••

During a recent tour of the Maitland Art Center campus with Bailey Cox, it’s evident that there’s been a lot of activity onsite since the merger. The center’s buildings have been cleaned and their finishes preserved. The gardens are weeded, and the koi pond has been restored to a natural, chemical-free state. Blue carpet that lined the walls and floors of the main gallery has been removed to expose the original pine floors. There are four new artists moving into the studios as part of the newly relaunched Artists-in-Action program, which gives selected artists spaces in which to work and exhibit. Bailey Cox says there’s also an oral-history project underway that will interview locals who remember the center back when it was being run by Smith. The popular nude-model sketch class continues on Thursday nights, like clockwork.

At this point in time, nothing suggests Smith or his legacy are going to be neglected. Right now, the Maitland Art and History Association is conducting a series of strategic-planning sessions that will continue into next year. Until those are complete, it’s not entirely clear what changes are going to be made at the center.

Shepp says he won’t be surprised if people who’ve stuck with the Maitland Art Center for years, who were concerned about how the merger went down, decide not to make financial contributions until it’s clear what these planning sessions will mean for the center’s future.

“I think because of the bad feelings by not allowing the membership to vote, a result is that people are going to sit back and not write checks initially,” he says.

That’s a pretty serious concern, he points out, considering the current economic climate, which has affected the arts across Central Florida and the state.

“I don’t know what is going on with this merger,” Shepp says, “and I wasn’t privy to the info. But I, like a lot of people, will sit back and see what happens.”

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