After devoting staff and board to help develop a countywide arts plan, the United Arts Council may be totally cut out of it.
Collier County commissioners will be asked today to vote on an amended version of the Collier County Arts and Culture Strategic Plan that has dropped the organization as its executor. The organization was not told of the change, according to Laura Burns, executive director of the UAC.
Further, she said, the arts council was not even contacted to participate in reworking the plan after its first pass with county commissioners Oct. 27.
The first-ever Collier County arts and culture strategic plan would develop a strategy to successfully promote the county as an arts and culture destination.
“We were just talking about the plan at our board meeting,” Burns said. “I was asking, ‘Should I be calling these people?'”
Communication has gone dead
At the Oct. 27 meeting, Commissioner Penny Taylor told the county commission and audience she wanted “90 days to go through this plan with United Arts Council in collaboration and to work on this.”
Asked if she had called the UAC, with whom she told commissioners she would work collaboratively on the changes, Taylor said, “Oh, my goodness, yes.
“They still owe me a call,” Taylor said. “They definitely had conversations but they just didn’t follow up.”
Burns, however, said she “absolutely did not” receive any communication from Taylor after the Oct. 27 meeting.
Taylor said she worked with county officials and the plan’s Florida-based consultants from The Cultural Planning Group to make changes over the 90 days. She said they talked with other counties or municipal districts with arts plans about their governance. All of those, she said, use a person or organization as executor that does not raise money from the same sources arts groups might use.
Her recommended wording would have the county hire its own staff member for the oversight of the arts and cultural strategic plan and drop the United Arts Council.
“They’re not a neutral convener. They have business interests that would have come into conflict with people they would have represented and advocated for. They can’t do both,” Taylor said of the UAC.
“They have to be an entity that is an umbrella organization for all the arts and culture here, or they are part of the arts and culture and they derive their income from the same sources that the people they represent do — which is what they do today,” she said Thursday.
Arts festival sovereignty gets a debate
Taylor may have been speaking of the fact that the UAC has staged several spoken word poetry workshops and some children’s classes. But her ire Oct. 27 was specifically aimed at the Uptown Art Fair scheduled for Jan. 23 and 24 on 10th Street South.
The United Arts Council is its sponsor, and it has brought in promoter Howard Alan, who operates the Coconut Point art festival. Naples Art (formerly the Naples Art Association), which operates a number of art festivals in the city, objected, saying it would cannibalize the market.
Taylor has taken up that objection, calling Naples Art a “respected organization,” the city’s oldest and the one that should be consulted for such art fairs.
However, Naples Art had angered artists whose booth fees it refused to refund when the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled its March arts festival in Naples. Those who insisted on a refund were told they could never participate in another Naples Art-organized festival.
How it started:Naples Uptown Art Festival joins the city calendar
The Uptown Art Fair came from the Naples Design District’s suggestion that it wanted some sort of public event, and from artists who were looking for another venue in the wake of the pandemic, Burns said.
“We received an abundance of communication from our own member artists and also from Naples Art member artists. We acted in response to a community need to alternatives to art shows that were managed by Naples Art. They wanted another opportunity,” Burns said. “They were hurting.”
Both sides lose something
Naples Art has changed both administrations and several board members in the summer. This month the organization also named Frank Verpoorten, former director and chief curator of The Baker Museum, as its new director. He has specifically said he wants to bring a new level of professionalism to the operations.
Further, Naples Art board president Ricki Baker has said it remains a member, and a supporter, of the United Arts Council.
But detente may come too late for the UAC.
“We did a lot of work. We invested a lot of our time, which equals money, on behalf of growing something for this county in a verbal partnership,” Burns said. “It’s ultimately the commission’s decision on how they would like to move forward. It’s unfortunate that we’ve been removed from the process.”
“We’re looking forward to what their ultimate decision is, absolutely, and hope that they move forward expeditiously to implement something that is so important to our community, especially at this time.”
Taylor also has indicated hiring an internal employee and having county employees handle public art maintenance and inspection could cut $25,000 from the plan implementation budget. Burns indicated she thinks the new estimate, $100,000, would short the plan.
The county may see the UAC again because it will likely have to go through the UAC for any state-funded grants. The UAC is the state-accredited arts agency for Collier County.
The county commission meets at 9 a.m. today in the Collier County government complex.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.