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Myra Janco Daniels, iconic arts champion and advertising pioneer, dies Wednesday

MJD-Chihuly Icicle.jpg
Vanessa Rogers Photography
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Priority Marketing
Arts visionary and advertising pioneer Myra Janco Daniels died Wednesday at 96.

Myra Janco Daniels, who founded the Philharmonic Center for the Arts (now Artis-Naples) and the Naples Museum of Art (now the Baker Museum), died Wednesday, June 22, at the age of 96.

Daniels’ tireless efforts in the arts helped transform the Naples region into a national arts hub. She founded the Philharmonic Center in 1989 and served as CEO until 2011. A news release from Priority Marketing notes that then-First Lady Barbara Bush attended the center’s opening night in November 1989.

During her tenure as CEO, the Philharmonic Center grew into a $100 million corporation, and the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra garnered at Grammy nomination.

Artis-Naples President and CEO Kathleen van Bergen, who took over after Daniels retired, said “it was a great responsibility and an honor to follow in her footsteps.”

Under Daniels’ direction, the Philharmonic Center’s influence extended beyond bringing world-class music, theater, dance, opera and fine art to the region, but also into bringing arts into the community and into area public schools with educational classes, workshops and free concerts.

“I also think about what she did as a female, as a visionary who started something from nothing,” said van Bergen.

“In 1989 when the Philharmonic Center for the Arts opened, that was the birth of this cultural community formalizing a commitment, and then when you add on the Baker Museum and the true breadth of high art to high entertainment across the visual and performing arts, it is remarkable what happens in this community thanks to Myra.”

Artis-Naples honors her legacy in a number of ways, including the Daniels’ Pavilion. “That is a small black box theater, a very intimate space. And the reason it’s noteworthy is not only because it holds her name, but because of the programing that happens there. It is a credit and a testament to the variety of offerings that she wanted to see on this cultural campus. We have chamber music. We have jazz. We have lectures, lifelong learning, children’s performances in there. It really does embody all of the variety that has been instilled since the Philharmonic Center opened,” said van Bergen.

Artis-Naples also honors Daniels through the Myra Janco Daniels Legacy Fund, which began after she announced her retirement. It’s a board-designated fund used to support a variety of large-scale projects.

In 2016, Daniels provided the $3 million lead gift to WGCU Public Media’s “Fund Our Future” initiative, marking the single largest donation she’d made and the largest gift WGCU has ever received. In honor of her generosity, WGCU’s broadcast facility on the Florida Gulf Coast University campus became the Myra Janco Daniels Public Media Center.

“From my first meeting with Myra, I saw the way her warmth, humor, and intelligence were so evident at 96,” said WGCU Public Media General Manager Corey Lewis.

“She asked tough questions and offered kind advice. Her legacy gift in support of WGCU’s arts programming, the largest in the history of WGCU, will continue to transform our services and provide access to the arts for everyone in our community.”

Daniels also consulted on various art projects, including at Ave Maria University in Collier County and at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“She was a person of intelligence, humor and deep commitment. While small in physical stature, she was a large and powerful presence,” said FGCU President Mike Martin in a statement.

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Paul Dengler
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Myra Janco Daniels sitting next to former FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw in the WGCU studios.

She was also instrumental in the creation of the Salvation Army Fran Cohen Youth Center and she founded the nonprofit Latchkey League fund-raising group.

Daniels’ immense impact on the Southwest Florida arts scene followed what had already been a pioneering career in advertising.

She worked as an associate professor of marketing at Indiana University where she’d earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In her mid-20s, she founded Wabash Advertising in Terre Haute, Indiana. She became executive vice president of the Chicago-based advertising firm Roche, Rickard, Henri, Hurst, Inc. in 1963.

“A community without art is a community without soul.”
Myra Janco Daniels

In 1965, Daniels became the youngest woman to receive the Advertising Woman of the Year award from the National Advertising Federation. That same year she formed the Draper Daniels Inc., a national agency along with ad man Draper Daniels. The couple married in 1967 and they ran the agency until 1977. Draper Daniels was responsible for many prominent ad campaigns during that era and he served as the basis for the character Don Draper on the AMC networks’ “Mad Men” television series.

Myra Daniels’ transformative work in the Southwest Florida arts scene began after the couple moved to Marco Island in the late ‘70s.

At the 2016 ceremony honoring her gift to WGCU Public Media and the renaming of the WGCU facility, Daniels said, “a community without art is a community without soul.”

She died early Wednesday morning at home, just three days shy of her 97th birthday. Future plans for a memorial celebration of her life will be announced at a later date.

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