The women behind the arts


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Shannon Fitzgerald GEORGIA WILLIAMS

Shannon Fitzgerald (GEORGIA WILLIAMS)

Because March is International Women’s Month, it is appropriate to celebrate the women of Orlando who have worked so diligently to enrich the many arts offered here. Some are unsung heroes and others are flamboyant divas, but no matter how they have helped, without them Orlando would never have the rich culture that inspires so many.

Harriett Lake, a Tribute

Not so long ago, Orlando lost one of our greatest philanthropists, Harriett Lake. Most women who have visited the Dr. Phillips Center have made a trip to the Harriett Lake Ladies Lounge, complete with its pink crystal chandeliers. Before her passing, she gifted the Orlando Ballet enough funds to begin construction on Harriett’s Orlando Ballet Centre. The Mad Cow Theater’s main stage is named for her, as is the Theater Fest at the Orlando Shakes. Her generous outreach has extended to our hospitals, colleges and other charities such as cancer research. She served our country as a Marine in World War II, became a fashion icon and was the 2014 Central Floridian of the Year. Her foundation will continue her legacy.

Harriett Lake with members of the Orlando Ballet HARRIETSCLOSET.COM

Harriett Lake with members of the Orlando Ballet (HARRIETSCLOSET.COM)

There Are Women Behind The Voices

Many years ago, there was an Orlando Opera Company and a group of volunteers known as the Opera Guild. When the opera went bankrupt they joined together and formed the Florida Opera Theater, which is now Opera Orlando. Mostly women volunteers have kept the art form alive here. There are two very talented women who merit recognition here. Robin Jensen directs the Orlando Youth Opera and recently conducted the orchestra for Opera Orlando’s production of “Hansel and Gretel.” Sarah Purser Bojorquez is a performer but recently was the chorus master for the Opera Orlando Chorus that accompanied Andrea Bocelli on his Valentine Concert Tour.

Other Notable Women of the Arts

Shannon Fitzgerald is the executive director of the Mennello Museum of American Art. Managing a museum is a challenge for anyone, but under her direction there have been many successful shows, including an opening event in partnership with the Orlando Museum of Art.

Donna Dowless, an artist and “Orlando’s Ambassador of Love,” had a recent Valentine show at the Grand Bohemian Gallery with her “Heart and Soul” collection. Inspired by a conversation with Andy Warhol, she left behind a career in the entertainment industry to pursue her passion for painting. She is also an instrumental figure in the Downtown Arts District. She’s been there for 17 years and was the director for five of those years.

Katherine Ramsberger, the unstoppable president and CEO of the Dr. Phillips Center, led her team from the initial concepts to the grand opening. The project will be completed with the Steinmetz Hall now under construction. She lives the center’s vision of “Art for every life.”

Flora Maria Garcia is the president and CEO of The United Arts of Central Florida. This organization offers matching funds for almost all of the arts in our area. If you wish to donate to the Orlando Ballet, The Orlando Philharmonic, The Shakes or the Orlando Museum of Art, or many others, the best way to do so is thru the United Arts Campaign because of the matching grants provided.

How About the Volunteers?

Let us applaud just a few ladies you may recognize here there and everywhere. Denise Scott and Priscilla Rose volunteer at most art venues in town. And then there is Deanna Keller, the super volunteer who also ushers at the Dr. Phillips Center, often in her wheelchair but always with a gracious smile. How could the arts survive without women such as these? Volunteers are why the opera came back and why the arts continue to thrive in Orlando.

Brava, every one of you women!

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