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Collier County has an arts and culture strategic plan, but no one to administer it — and won’t for another three months, after commissioners yanked a resolution Tuesday  for the United Arts Council to administer its new arts and cultural strategic plan.

The decision, which mandates a 90-day revision period on the contract, followed more than an hour of questions and, occasionally, accusatory comments that suggested:

  • Commissioners are not familiar with operations of county arts organizations, including the UAC. Conversely, the UAC isn’t familiar with the level of details commissioners want on budgeting.
  • No one is offering solid figures on how much it will cost to administer an arts and cultural strategic plan or how to pay for it. 
  • And at least two commissioners question the UAC as a producer of events that might help pay for administration of the plan.

At least 10 arts administrators, Bayshore advocates and resident artists appeared in person or online to speak in support of the resolution. But Commissioner Andy Solis (District 2) was already rattled by the August merger of UAC with the Cultural And Performing Arts Center (CAPA), the nonprofit organization that has lobbied for a performing arts center in East Naples.

“This merger, for me, changes things and I have to understand that. Was the county staff made aware of that before it was announced?” he asked.

Solis was under the impression CAPA owned the Opera Naples building on Linwood Avenue, which had been the venue for its last several concert series. (Opera Naples owns the building, he was told.)

Teamwork: UAC, CAPA merge after arts plan

Nor was he comforted by UAC Executive Director Laura Burns’ explanation of the merger. The UAC is looking at opportunities to work with the new Paradise Coast Sports and Event Complex off City Gate Boulevard North for arts events, and CAPA’s expertise in collaborations and budget-conscious programs are a good fit, she said. 

That eventually brought a question about UAC as an event organizer: “So the UAC is not going to be actively producing events — it’s not going to be holding its own events?” he asked.

“The UAC has always held events in our 40 years of history,” Burns told Solis. “We hold art exhibits. We hold fundraising galas. We hold art shows. We hold open mic nights.” In fact, all arts agencies in Florida do, she said.

A vigorous arts plan is going to require more funding, she continued.

“The BCC has made it very clear, in the process of developing this strategic plan, that you did not want a division of cultural affairs within your government. You wanted an independent agency to work in that capacity,” Burns said.

“And in order to do that, it requires a certain level of investment and finances. The finances that come through this contract is a very small piece of what will be needed to implement this plan.” 

That was enough to make Solis admit he did not want to vote on the plan until he knew more: “This for me has changed, and I think I’m not comfortable moving forward today with some of the things I’ve just heard.”

Penny Taylor (District 4) was openly hostile. The UAC is planning an art festival Jan. 23-24 that has drawn the wrath of Naples Art (the former Naples Art Association), which considers it competition. Naples Art objected, unsuccessfully, to the UAC application for a permit, saying that sandwiching in another arts festival when Naples Art already has eight scheduled in the city would erode its income for Naples Ar. 

“We have a very respected group in Collier County,” she told the hearing room. “It’s called the Naples Art Association. They’ve proven themselves again and again, that they understand how to put on an art show. They put one of the top 10 shows in the nation. They’ve done it for years.”

The UAC show, she continued, would use an outside vendor and the only person guaranteed to make money would be that vendor.

“There was no guarantee that local artists would be used. There was no guarantee that money would be coming back to the artists that were there or even the arts in the community. They did it unapologetically,” she continued. 

“This contract is not right to be passed today. I see it as a contract that is written as all for one rather than one for all.”

New in town: Naples Uptown Art Festival on city calendar

“There’s not enough administrative language in it. And I think that’s what we want,” she concluded. “I think we want to move this to an administrative role that the United Arts Council plays.”

That will require some funding mechanism other than UAC efforts. There was no mention of addressing finances at the Tuesday meeting. Nor have estimated costs been laid out by either side.

Burns did reply to Taylor’s comments about the upcoming UAC show. It was organized, she said, in response to “an abundance of communication,” from both UAC member artists and Naples Art’s own artists, asking for an alternative to Naples Art-administered shows.

Artists, she said, did not receive refunds for their booth fees from Naples Art after its show was canceled during the pandemic. 

“They were hurting even more, so they asked for help,” she said.

The show producer whom the UAC has hired also had to shut down a Southwest Florida show during the pandemic, but the producer refunded the artists’ fees. Burns also added that the new art fair, the Uptown Art Festival, is committed to having 25 percent local artists and a demonstration area for three to five local “emerging” artists. 

Commissioner Bill McDaniel (District 5) raised questions about the cultural arts fund and whether the county would be obligated to match philanthropic contributions to it. The answer was no, but all the uncertainty was enough for Chairman Burt Saunders (District 3). 

“We have two commissioners that have asked for this to be delayed. I am reluctant to act on something when two commissioners have said they’ve got a problem with the contract,” he said. 

Commissioners agreed unanimously to refer it back to Taylor, who was involved in the initial formulation of the arts and culture strategic plan. Commissioners will take it up again at the Jan. 26 commission meeting. 

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.

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