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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, May. 27, 2010 7 years ago

Our Observation

Art, history good pairing

When art met history, it wasn't love at first sight. But exactly a year later, the Maitland Art Association and the Maitland Historical Society have made their union official.

Now they are a force to be reckoned with in the Central Florida cultural arena, with a combined budget of almost $1 million. While two wallets are better than one, the leaders of these organizations insist that they didn't marry for the money.

After a year of talks between the boards, facilitated by another Maitland organization, the United Arts of Central Florida, leaders concluded that the nonprofits want the same thing — to stimulate thought, spark the imagination, enrich the spirit and foster appreciation in art, historical studies and preservation. So why not achieve it together?

The new organization is the Maitland Art and History Association. Last week, they named Andrea Cox to run the show as executive director. Cox, the director of the Historical Society, has also worked for the Art Center, so she's ready to hit the ground running.

Just by entertaining a merger, the two organizations have shown that they are ready to do what it takes to preserve art and history in Maitland, as the city — their majority funding source — struggles with a continued decline in property tax revenue. Both the Art Center and Historical Society have seen a decrease in city funding over the last two years. Last year, they took a 5 percent hit. As a stronger organization, they hope to get grants that they could only dream of before the merge.

According to the Community Foundation of Central Florida, there are 17 Central Florida organizations in merger talks. Most of them are social service firms. But there's also a group in Orange County that is splitting off from another because their missions are no longer the same.

"If missions are so in alignment that a merger makes sense, than that's great," United Arts President Margot Knight said. "You can't force mergers on people. Nonprofits are lucky because boards volunteer to do it; there are no hostile takeovers."

The Art and History Association is setting a great example that will hopefully encourage other entities to look at the possibility of partnerships or full-out mergers to ensure survival in these tough times.

Knight said there's been a huge uptick in the number of nonprofits in the area, and that some seem to be better suited for programs, not full-fledged organizations. If a smaller entity partners with an established nonprofit, there's more support for the entity's programs and less money tied up in administrative costs.

"I watched a hospital in Raleigh pull in 13 organizations that had anything to do with breast cancer and urged them all to talk to each other," Knight said. "The hospital didn't want to fund all 13.

"The goal is to overlap and not duplicate."

And as Art and History Association Chairman Victor Diaz so eloquently put it, "In Maitland, art is history and history is art, and you just can't separate the two."

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