In 2005, Flora Major was at a crossroads. Her husband Andrew had passed away and the time seemed right to explore new horizons and meet new people. “I needed a fundamental change in my life. I wanted to find a place where people are genuine and down to earth,” she explains. While visiting a friend in Sarasota, she felt she had discovered just such a place. Flora spent a rainy day looking at apartments and found the perfect new home. “I made an offer that day and have never regretted it,” she says.

A vibrant, friendly, and exuberant person, Flora set out to become involved in her new community and sought out organizations worthy of support. She and her husband had always been socially active in North Carolina and in New York City where they had worked and lived. They had also been philanthropic and had assisted organizations that they felt contributed to their community. Arts organizations were a special passion. Both art lovers and collectors, they traveled extensively and frequented museums around the world. “The arts always need support,” says Flora. “They need all the help they can get.”

Flora’s interest in modern and contemporary art and her past service on the boards of the North Carolina Museum of Art and Duke University Museum of Art led Flora’s neighbor, Dottie Baer Garner, to suggest that Flora look at becoming involved with Ringling College of Art and Design and the College’s new Sarasota Museum of Art/SMOA. As a result, she met with Ringling College’s president, Dr. Larry R. Thompson, and Wendy Surkis, the president of the SMOA board. She immediately became enamored!

The concept—to repurpose the historic Sarasota High School building into an art museum and visual arts education center—appealed to Flora immediately. “It’s wonderful to preserve the building. I love combining the old and the new,” she explains. She’s excited about what SMOA and the Ringling College Visual Arts Education Center will bring to Sarasota, including world-acclaimed artists, thought-provoking art and educational opportunities. And she loves the people involved. “I have never seen anyone work as hard to rally the troops as Wendy Surkis,” says Flora.

Flora joined the SMOA board and was among the first to make a significant donation. She hopes her contribution will “make a little bit of a difference,” and is happy to see so many others join her in supporting the effort.

“Art is part of Sarasota’s heritage as a cultural center,” says Flora. “Having a modern and contemporary art museum and education center in our community will honor that heritage and be a great benefit for the community.”

She adds, “SMOA is going to be fantastic!”


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