On May 29th, 2013, Flora Maria Garcia, President & CEO of United Arts of Central Florida, organized and hosted a panel discussion with some of our local museum directors. The discussion was held at the Orlando Museum of Art. Present at the table were Ena Heller, Bruce A. Beal Director at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College; Andrea Bailey Cox, Director & CEO at the Maitland Art & History Museums; and Glen Gentele, Director & CEO at the Orlando Museum of Art.
Below is a brief overview of the questions and answers based on my notes (i.e. paraphrased, not recorded). I will abbreviate the organizations as CFAM, MA&H, and OMA.
What is your organization’s focus / goals?
- CFAM: Art That Makes You Think
- MA&H: A Place to be Inspired, or, Discover, Engage and Inspire
- OMA: Glen didn’t have as succinct of a tagline, but talked about recognizing the contributions other people make, and about igniting your imagination. He also emphasized the organization’s focus on past, present and future, and talked about their desire to be at the table as Orlando continues to grow and advance culturally as a city. Finally, he mentioned serving artist and scholars producing new work here and beyond.
What role do you see your institution playing in the greater community?
- Ena: What’s unique? Encyclopedic collection. Teaching museum; want to engage with students not just at Rollins but at other local universities (UCF, Full Sail). Collaboration: lend and share works of art and expertise, cross marketing.
- Andrea: Enrich. Collaboration. Orlando is an important city. Emphasis on MA&H’s physical buildings/architecture.
- Glen: Human condition. Artistic practice. Seeking existing ideas from people who have been here (e.g. the upcoming archive is a collaboration with UCF and someone else with archiving expertise).
How do you make museums less intimidating and invite the community in?
- Ena: The quality of what you do is key. Also need to publicize. E.g. free admission has doubled our numbers. More family friendly programs. Word of mouth.
- Andrea: Multiple entry points. New programming, e.g. summer concert series, family days with hands-on projects, etc. Thinking about technology, and implications. Acknowledges museum profession is behind in general (in use of tech).
- Glen: Mentioned Google art project. Acknowledged he is somewhat intimidated by museums. But sees opportunity. OMA does a spectrum of programs too.
What are your plans for engaging local artists?
- Ena: Cornell hasn’t done enough. Paradox… Focus on contemporary but not local. Knows that there aren’t a lot of local gallery opportunities. Thinks they should step in. To show work, yes, but also to create a place for dialogue and conversations with peers. Thinks other institutions are better situated to do this than CFAM. But they could get together and share resources.
- Andrea: MA&H is following the legacy of Andre Smith… supporting contemporary artists, both in showing work and providing solitude and support; working studios. Explosion of programming in last 3 yrs. Artists in action program (Cicero Greathouse, Camilo Velasquez). Artists in residence. Professional critique program. Culture and cocktails one night exhibitions. Half of season, they feature emerging artists. Sketch club. They will be focusing on one and two person shows.
- Glen: Can’t please everyone. Not always about providing a place to show work, but about him going out to support us where we are doing things. Has an integrated formula, but keeping it secret. Might have a front room rotating space (more exhibitions, low cost, short lived). A program to recognize and reward artists for what they do.
Challenges and opportunities?
- Ena: Low visibility. Rapid turnover in leadership.
- Andrea: Hidden. Resources… cuts in government funding. Major preservation efforts required. 5 museums, amazing collections.
- Glen: Individually amplify what each of them do, while collectively resonating across the region.
Sneak peeks at upcoming exhibitions/events?
- Andrea: Josette Urso new paintings. Cross promotion with Florida Film Festival, with artists who work with/related to film (Joyce Ely-Walker, others). Jake Fernandez. National Historic Landmark application.
- Ena: Auktion 392: traveling exhibition addressing Nazi looted art, coming in November. Matisse as Printmaker, traveling exhibition. Alfond Collection at new hotel opening on Interlachen in the fall.
- Glen: American graphics: Warhol etc. Also, Kiki Smith acquisition (work based on Little Red Riding Hood). Golden Age of European Painting exhibition: Rembrandt etc. Olafur Eliasson installation: The Uncertain Museum.
At the end of the panel discussion, Flora opened it up to questions from the audience, which varied quite a bit: Would they consider selling work to make room for new work and keep their collections moving forward / relevant? What directions are their collections going? How can they attract and pay for high calibre exhibitions (e.g. 1+ mil)?
I made a few comments towards the end that I’ll elaborate on a bit here.
I am very excited to see Olafur Eliasson’s installation at OMA, and I encouraged these organizations to bring more “museum scale” contemporary installations to Orlando. One of the advantages of having a museum is that you can show work that necessitates physical presence to fully experience it, in an age where you can virtually visit much of the world’s art via the internet. I think of the experience of viewing Untitled (Mylar), a site specific installation by Tara Donovan at one of the Pace Galleries in NYC. You can see photos and video of work like that, but experiencing it in person is totally different.
I recommended that the museums seek opportunities to host high level educational events, and I gave two examples: Creative Capital Professional Development Program workshops (which I have attended in Delray Beach, St. Pete, and Tallahassee) and author visits from people like Jackie Battenfield, author of The Artist’s Guide (whom I saw on a book tour in Gainesville). Orlando should be hosting these types of events.
Finally, I expressed my hope that Orlando will become a place where local artists don’t feel like they have to go outside of the city for great opportunities, and local collectors don’t feel like they have to go outside of the city to find and buy great contemporary art!
Thank you to Flora, Ena, Andrea, Glen, and their respective institutions for putting together and participating in this panel discussion. It was a valuable opportunity to engage and interact with these cultural leaders. If you are interested in this and similar types of events, I would recommend going to the United Arts website and joining their mailing list and/or following them on social media.