For the Love of Art

by Monty Montgomery

ONCE YOU'VE SPENT TIME with Myra Janco Daniels, dynamic Chairman and CEO of Naples’ Philharmonic Center for the Arts, and the driving force behind the ‘Hans Hoffman–A Retrospective’ exhibition on view through March 21, 2004 at Naples Museum of Art, it’s easy to conclude that presenting the Hoffman exhibition was a longtime, perhaps lifelong, personal objective of hers. As her foreword to the glossy 153-page ‘Hans Hoffmann’ art book accompanying the exhibition states, "Even before the Naples Museum of Art was conceived, I wanted to see a major retrospective of Hans Hoffmann’s paintings in Southwest Florida. We had to build the museum before the dream could become a reality." Single-minded purposefulness and charming personal warmth appear to be two characteristics woven into every genetic strand of Myra’s being.

I’ve read that your first adult job was in advertising. How’d you get into that?

Myra Janco Daniels: I worked my way through school in the advertising department of a store, a big store, Meis’ in Terra Haute, Indiana, home of Indiana State University. When the advertising director left the store, the owner Salo Levitt, said, "Can you carry on for a week before a new man comes in to take the job?" and he left town. So I decided to try the things I would never ever get to do. I can remember my first ad. It was an ad with women sitting on the rims of tall lemonade glasses with their arms around the straws, and it said, "Cotton—Cool as lemonade!" I sold every one of the 800 dresses!

I started in retail advertising when I was 23-24 years old, while I was still going to school. Then I graduated and got my masters. I surrounded myself with eight young people who were starry-eyed. We borrowed Standard Rate and Data and the Standard Register and I opened an ad agency. We sold not just in that local area, but we went to Chicago and St. Louis and did very well. At the end of the first year, we made a million dollars!

Then I took the agency to Chicago in I961, just after Kennedy was elected, and not long after that I became the head of Roche Rickert Henri Hurst, a merger of the two oldest agencies in Chicago. I was just a kid. Women were supposed to be copyrighters and researchers, and of course, secretaries, but I just didn’t know any better and I was Executive VP to start. Then, in a very short time after that the company president was dismissed, and I was asked to be the first woman president of an ad agency of that scope. But I didn’t take it. I thought I didn’t know enough, so I told them, "I’ll do the work, but keep the title for a while." So, of course I got it.

What do you think made you different?

I was absolutely focused, I was highly ambitious, I never thought my sex could keep me out of anything.

So it didn’t?

It didn’t. And I never saw a glass ceiling in my life. And I produced. I’d come in early, stay late, and I cared about what I was doing. I found it exciting. So many people go to a job and they just do it for dollars. You can’t run that way. You can’t win.

Jumping way ahead, what do you consider the secrets of fundraising, generating support?

First you have to start with a top product. If you have nothing to give people, they won’t give you back… My whole theme has been "A community without art is a community without soul." Then I surround myself with the best people I can afford and I give them mutual respect. I believe every private citizen has—and I’ve been quoted saying this—"Every private citizen has a public responsibility."

When I was here, in early retirement after my husband passed away, I thought of going back to Chicago, but I felt the need, and the want, for more arts in this community and I hope I have started, with my staff and my board—my fantastic board!—fulfilling that want.

At this point in time, how do you allocate your energies to the various entities—the arts in the museum; the music in the Philharmonic—and the administration they all involve?

You know sometimes, I wonder myself. My major job, I feel, is to make sure the product is as good as it can possibly get and I think our people need to know our product to present it. I think I have my hands in all the functions of this organization. I try to touch every manager at least once a week, most of the time it’s more.

I guess my first love is the orchestra, which in a sense gives a hub to our whole organization. Next month, you will see the orchestra on national PBS, two years in a row. That’s unheard of, unheard of! Usually they choose the large national orchestras. Our orchestra has grown dramatically. Anyone who hasn’t heard it is very surprised. I think that when you have a good orchestra, you can have good dance, you can have good opera, and even, sometimes, you can have good musicals.

Of course, I love all the arts! I think my theme song is "All the arts belong together" and when we built this, it was a Center for the Arts—all the arts, performing and visual. Now why do you think this is so important? As I explained to one man recently during a national television program, we are an umbrella organization. We have one finance department, one marketing department, one PR department, one maintenance department…. And like most orchestras, we have a home for them. Without a home, it becomes an absolutely transitory operation.

With our visual and performing arts being together, they can move forward together with success. When we were building this, it was, and it became, a blueprint for smaller cities. You know, the arts are very much alive and well outside the major cities. In fact, take what we have—from Renée Fleming, this year, to great art in the Hans Hoffman retrospective. We organized that from scratch. That is a very important thing. We have organized, or reorganized, the Helen Frankenthaler show too. And this is the book we’re putting out on the Hoffmann exhibition. And this is pretty snazzy.

It sure is! And you’re the publisher?

No, we are the organizers, we put it together, and it was written under our auspices, but it was published by George Braziller, one of the finest art publishers in the world. He’s done two books for us. Just yesterday he called me and asked, "What’s the third one coming up?" and I told him a subject, which he’s now thinking about. This one’s a very fine book and I think if you read it you’ll get an understanding of Hoffmann you never had before.

The first paragraph of the dust jacket says, "Hans Hoffmann is one of the most important figures of postwar American art. Celebrated for his exuberant color-filled canvases and renowned as an influential teacher for generations of artists, Hoffmann played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism…. the first uniquely American School in painting." What does Hoffmann’s work, his art, mean or say to you?

Hoffman started as a teacher and he brought into our lives an understanding of color and design. He taught and influenced some of the great artists in the country. For instance, in this book you will see a piece of art we borrowed from Frank Stella, and he speaks of him, and Helen Frankenthaler was a student of his. So too, David Hockney was a student of his, and Wolf Kahn and all these people we know, and it’s…its—what it says to me is this: I once sold a Hoffmann that I bought, my first one, and I still mourn for it. Later I bought another one, a more expensive one, but it just wasn’t the same.

Years ago, at a dinner party I sat next to a man who’d just come back from Germany. He said he’d just settled an estate of a famous artist. I asked, "Well, who’s the artist?" and he said "Hans Hoffmann" in a rather blasé way. I said, "That’s one of my favorite artists." Why? Because the more you look at his work the more appreciative you become. I was a student of art at one time, and I’ve sometimes taken a work of his to see if I could do it: "Easier seen than done!"

But anyway, it was somewhere around 1989 I believe, that I said to him, "You know, one day I’d like to have a museum, and if I do, do you think you can help me get together the collection, or some of the collection, you brought back from Germany?" Now they’re here, part of the show. All 75 works in the book are in the show. Our staff, when the works came in, worked as the registrars, cataloging and inspecting them, and they did the design of the show too. It’s a great retrospective.

Who decides what show is going to be in the museum?

Well, we have 15 galleries, and up until this year, I really ran the museum, too. Today, the Museum Director, Dr. John Neff, comes to me with his suggestions and sometime I give him suggestions. It’s a team. And where do we find a show? In odd ways. For example, I have a very dear French friend who was married to the son of a great artist, who died, and we’ll be showing the work of her father-in-law. That’s going to be very special. I can’t tell you the artist’s name now, but you’ll definitely want to see it. •

from the January-February 2004 issue

"A community without art is
a community without soul."

Hans Hoffmann's 'Volution.'