Ever since United Arts lost its bulldog-for-the-arts president and CEO Margot Knight, who left town in November for a new gig at a San Diego arts colony, it seems like assaulting local arts organizations has become something of a sport for certain local politicians. Shortly before Knight left, Orange County commissioner Ted Edwards grilled United Arts on its mission and funding, which led to a larger inquiry about the value of arts to the community in general.
“It’s troubling, especially in these economic times, we are giving to these elitist groups with no accountability,” Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer told WFTV Channel 9 at the time. That discussion is still ongoing, and some county commissioners continue to demand that United Arts justify its existence. A brouhaha has erupted recently in Maitland, as well, when city councilman Phil Bonus raised a ruckus over whether Maitland Art & History Museums – an organization that was pretty much constructed **by** the city of Maitland to take over the operations of both the Maitland Art Center and the Maitland Historical Museum to make them more efficient – is efficient enough. His take: It’s not and he wants the city to take over the organization to make it “revenue neutral,” rather than costing the city any money. Because, you know, art doesn’t give anything back to the community, so it better start working to earn its keep. Right.
So no better time than now for United Arts to announce that it has finally – finally! – hired a new president and CEO. Flora Maria Garcia, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Commission, is taking the reins of United Arts beginning on May 29. The veteran administrator, it seems, is no stranger for having to fight for a pittance from local governments: “The government doesn’t understand the value of the arts to communities. They think of it as an extra, not a necessity,” Garcia was quoted as saying by the Marietta Daily Journal in 2011. “We need to continue to raise awareness about the economic impact and value of the arts for tourism and the economy. Most arts organizations don’t talk about themselves as economic drivers to their elected officials.”
Sing it, sister. Welcome to town.