Opera Naples has a new director: What to know

Laura Burns
Laura Burns

Laura Burns changes executive director titles, from that of United Arts Council to Opera Naples, beginning in October.

"I am thrilled to work with Maestro Ramón Tebar and join Opera Naples in their endeavors to cultivate access to arts and culture for the Naples community and throughout Southwest Florida,” said Burns in a news release from Opera Naples.

“Their unwavering passion for delivering diverse international performances and educational opportunities for audiences of all ages matches my own, and I look forward to helping execute their vision.”

As executive director of the United Arts Council (UAC) of Collier County in Naples, Burns worked with the national advocacy organization, Americans in the Arts, to survey Collier County for statistics which both showed the formidable impact of the arts here and contributed to a five-year survey, "The Arts and Economic Prosperity."

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During her tenure, the arts organization also relocated its headquarters close to downtown on Fourth Avenue North and gave it a larger gallery space for local artists' work. At the same time, the UAC began working with businesses in the Naples Design District on nearby 10th Street South to create an arts festival, the Uptown Art Festival, in the newly designated district.

Burns also led the agency's collaboration with the county in facilitating community input for a Collier County Arts & Culture Strategic Plan. Initially, the UAC was named to lead its implementation as well, but a disconnect, largely between Burns and County Commissioner Penny Taylor, over the UAC's role in sponsoring art events and the costs involved with implementing the plan. As a result, the county hired its own arts & culture manager and assigned the position to the Tourism Department.

The Uptown Art Festival, in the meantime, has done well enough that it has been expanded to two events during the season. The first this season is planned for Nov. 26-27.

The UAC is currently interviewing for a new leader, said Gregg Zavodny, president of the UAC board's executive committee, and had been aware that Burns only planned to stay no later than 2023.

"We are extremely happy for Laura, especially for her new opportunity in Naples," Zavodny said. "She has served the United Arts Council very faithfully since 2016, and it's good to see her have a new opportunity so close to where she has been."

"In the broadest sense, (we're looking for) somebody who can articulate the importance of the arts, somebody who's got a commitment to the Collier County area," he said. A knowledge of and commitment to local organizations and institutions is an advantage, but it is looking at any applicant with an enthusiasm for them and high arts qualification.

He also pointed out that COVID-19 restrictions over the last two years slowed down initiatives both in and around the organization. The UAC is looking to break through that.

"We want someone who can give us a post-pandemic reboot," he said.

Larry Ost, chairman of the board of trustees at Opera Naples, said Burns “truly brings a unique perspective, breadth of knowledge and relationship-building skills that will be vital to the success and growth of our organization and the arts community as a whole.”

Opera Naples is planning its third Festival Under the Stars, in 2023 with nearly two weeks of concerts, opera and family-friendly activities March 22-April 5, within the city.

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

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Opera Naples has a new director: What to know