Myra Janco Daniels stepping down as CEO of Naples Philharmonic Center

Philharmic C.E.O. Myra Daniels, claps and dons a hand rolled cigar after director Joe Cardona, left, and Albert Sabina, editor of Vista Semanal, made her an official citizen of Cuba at the debut of 'Celia the Queen,' a documentary based on the late salsa legend Celia Cruz at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts on Saturday evening in Naples. Lexey Swall-Bobay/Staff

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Philharmic C.E.O. Myra Daniels, claps and dons a hand rolled cigar after director Joe Cardona, left, and Albert Sabina, editor of Vista Semanal, made her an official citizen of Cuba at the debut of "Celia the Queen," a documentary based on the late salsa legend Celia Cruz at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts on Saturday evening in Naples. Lexey Swall-Bobay/Staff

Myra Janco Daniels founder and long-time chief executive of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts has decided to step down from her position at the end of the year.

Daniels gave the news to the Phil’s board of directors on Tuesday afternoon. In retiring, Daniels will be giving up the reigns to the most important cultural institution in Southwest Florida. She is the only head the 29-year-old organization has had.

Speaking from her office on Tuesday, Daniels was in a joking mood about the announcement.

“I just want a vacation,” she said. “I haven’t had one in about 30 years.”

The board will begin an immediate search for her replacement, whom they hope to have in place before the end of the year. Daniels said board members asked her to stay on that long in case finding a replacement proved difficult.

In a prepared statement William Schoen, president of the Phil’s board of directors, said the board was supportive of Daniels’ decision to retire and acknowledged the difficult task it faces in replacing her.

“The Phil is the house that Myra built and she will be leaving very large shoes to be filled,” Schoen said.

Daniels founded the Phil in 1982 in part as a way to ease the grief from the death of husband, advertising icon Draper Daniels.

“I knew I needed something to keep my mind occupied,” she told the Daily News in 2009. “I was talking to someone about this little chamber orchestra on Marco Island. They were just playing at a local high school. So I decided to get involved.”

It started by cold calling people in the phone book and pitching them on the project, which quickly gained momentum. One of those calls happened to be to Frances Pew Hayes, an heir to the Pew fortune, who made an initial $25,000 donation and then donated more than $2 million.

In 1989, the group opened its campus in Pelican Bay, which has since expanded to include a multi-million dollar museum complex since 2000 and a recently renovated black box theater named after Daniels.

Over the years the Phil has grown into the dominant player in performing and visual arts in Naples. But more importantly, the Phil helped put Naples on the map in terms of the arts in large part thanks to Daniels dedication, said Delores Sorey, a long-time arts activist and vice president of Classic Chamber Concerts.

“She has just been phenomenal for Naples, not just for the Phil but for the whole city and the county,” Sorey said. “People used to think of Sarasota or Key West as the arts cities. But now Naples is there.”

Sorey called Daniels the best fundraiser she’d ever been involved with, saying her passion for the Phil and the arts was obvious.

“That’s her child,” Sorey said. “She eats, sleeps and lives for the Philharmonic. That passion is what sells it.”

Daniels, 85, made a second career in the arts after spending the first part of her life in advertising. She used her skills in sales to help convince people to give often enormous sums of money to help build her vision of all the arts under one umbrella.

“Not many people were thinking about the arts all belonging together,” Daniels said. “But I believe the visual arts and performing arts should be married.”

To that end she has steadily added to the Phil’s strong performing arts base with a museum that has steadily grown its collection. In the past year, Daniels has negotiated the donation of a series of Louise Nevelson sculptures called “Dawn’s Forest,” which now dominate the domed atrium of the museum.

As the Phil has grown, Daniels has ruffled some feathers in the community. Most recently a feud has developed with Opera Naples over staging performances in the Phil’s auditorium. When it was time to choose an opera partner, Daniels went with Sarasota Opera instead of the local company.

For her part, Daniels said her decision to retire from the Phil doesn’t mean she’s slowing down permanently. She’s just taking a little break.

“I don’t want to fall asleep and snore loudly,” she said. “Just for a couple of weeks maybe and then I’ll be on to the next thing.”

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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