President and CEO
United Arts of Central Florida
Photography by Julie Fletcher
“This is really about collective impact, and how we are going to come together to leverage this support.” – Jennifer Evins
Meet Jennifer Evins: cruise director. At the United Arts of Central Florida, she goes by her official title of president and CEO, but it isn’t too far off from her seafaring childhood dream.
“‘The Love Boat’ was huge when I was growing up,” she remembers, “and as a little girl I really wanted to be Julie McCoy. I wanted to be the cruise director. I’m a planner, and I always want to make sure everybody’s having a good time.”
Years later, her passions for teamwork, planning and the arts have come together to create a culture of collaboration in her community.
The Road to United Arts
Raised in Indianapolis as the daughter of a former ballerina and a public servant, Jennifer Evins says her upbringing did more to point her toward her current role than even her interest in the cruise ship sitcom on TV. “Our parents made sure my brothers and I experienced arts and culture, from museums to theater to music. I didn’t really have any professionally trained artistic ability, but I always valued it.”
Even after she started her career in the marketing and public affairs world in Spartanburg, South Carolina, her lifelong love of the arts led her to a parallel path in volunteer work. “I served my very first board position on the local ballet in my early 20s, in part because my mother had been in dance.” Later, she became chair of the board of The Arts Partnership in Spartanburg, a move that proved pivotal to her personal and professional life.
“I really just started loving and gaining a better understanding of the tremendous value that the arts bring in terms of economy, education, quality of life, health and well-being.”
After leading a campaign to build a new performing arts center and cultural campus in her community for 10 years as a volunteer, she took a brief step back to focus on her family and other career goals. But in 2010, she dove right back in when she was hired as president and CEO of the Chapman Cultural Center.
Ten years later, Evins felt she was at a crossroads. “I realized I had really achieved everything I’d set out to do in that job,” she says. “It was time for someone else’s dreams and visions there.”
It was then that she found the opening with United Arts of Central Florida, one of the leading United Arts organizations in the country and one that she had always admired from states away. “When I visited Orlando in April 2021, during the final interview process, I thought: ‘This is the right place for you, and you’re the right person for them. Now’s the time to go.’”
The Right Place
In her first 90 days, Evins set out to meet with 200 stakeholders to get a crash course in the organization and the community it serves. “I’ve learned that if you say yes and show up for each opportunity, amazing things can happen,” she says. “Own your skills and your experience, but be ready to learn from the people around you.”
She was determined to understand which issues the community was facing as a whole, and not just in the cultural sector. She explains the reason: “The arts need to be relevant and impactful.”
Meeting with people one-on-one or in small groups, Evins exceeded her goal, speaking with about 300 people in her first few months from across all four of the counties the organization covers. “I explored Sanford and St. Cloud, Clermont and Kissimmee. It was really important to me to just walk around and talk to people and get to know the community.”
After those hundreds of meetings, her team came together to set goals for the coming years. Their main areas of focus were broken down into a few categories: addressing the financial pressure on the cultural sector, growing the organization’s grants program to be more inclusive, leveraging the cultural sector as a tourism asset for Central Florida, advocating for and supporting individual artists as well as organizations, and allowing for more representation in the arts to better reflect the diversity of the community.
From broadening the organization’s grants program to remove barriers to access, to offering professional development resources to individual artists, United Arts is set to work on the steps to solutions.
For Evins, diversity has been an integral part to finding solutions, and she points to a growing focus on sharing the experience of BIPOC populations, or black, indigenous and people of color. “Florida is 37% BIPOC leadership,” she says. “We’ve got to make sure that both the leadership and the decision makers in the arts are dynamic and diverse, and that people can find, connect and see themselves in the cultural products of this community.”
Her latest project at the United Arts is that of overseeing the Collaborative Campaign for the Arts, which runs each year from February 1 through April 30. For more than 30 years, the campaign has brought the community together to support arts and cultural organizations in Central Florida, with every gift made to any of the participating organizations matched by 15% from United Arts. For Evins, it’s yet another opportunity for teamwork to create a better world.