A Godmother to the Arts: Flora Major and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Categories: Donors, Donor Story,

Coming to America

Flora Major was born and raised in Budapest, then Communist Hungary. Philanthropy came naturally and was the norm among friends and family. Nobody had any money to speak of and everyone helped each other the best way they could.

She emigrated to the USA and never forgot those difficult early years in New York City. Not speaking English, not having any money or family here it must have been difficult, indeed.

She is convinced that her success in both retail and wholesale businesses were because she was an immigrant and tried things others would never think of. In her words, “We had nothing to lose. You just do it.”

Art and soul

She moved to Sarasota after her beloved husband passed away and needed a fundamental change in her life. Sarasota was that change. She quickly became a patron of the arts, both as a spectator and a donor. One of the first institutions she got involved with was the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Community Foundations are extremely important in all communities because they help those who the government either can’t or won’t help. Just this year she introduced Roxie Jerde, the CEO of CF Sarasota to the Americans for the Arts who managed the Diversity In Art Leadership program. Roxie, her team, and other cultural leaders made DIAL happen in Sarasota. Five DIAL interns graduated in various local institutions. Flora had supported this amazing program in the past in New York City and in Nashville also.

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is another gem she supports. In 2021 she funded The Hermitage Major Theater Award by an $800,000 gift, which provides a $35,000 commission yearly for the creation of a new work of theater. She is very excited about this program, which helps those artists who otherwise would have to wait on tables or find other ways to pay the rent.

The Ringling College of Art and Design and its Sarasota Art Museum, of which she is one of the founders, is another passion of hers. She is a trustee of the college and established several scholarships to help those who need it. At the Sarasota Art Museum she sponsored 11 high school students as interns this summer. They were learning about how museums operate from A to Z. This experience will hopefully encourage them to seek further education in the Arts.

Other local cultural interests are the Selby Gardens; she loaned several pieces from her art collection to their exhibits over the years, the Sarasota Orchestra, and the Asolo Theater. She sat on their boards for many years.

So what else is cooking? Flora is not one to remain passive. When not involved with her many philanthropic efforts, she enjoys traveling with friends, visiting museums, checking out the newest shows, playing and watching tennis, and of course, cooking.

She was cooking during this interview and of course we wanted to know what she was preparing. Not surprisingly, she was making a Hungarian specialty, stuffed peppers. They are a bit different from the American or Italian versions, using white-skinned Hungarian peppers and no cheese. She gets the peppers at a Hungarian farm stand in New Jersey. She makes a big batch of these about once a year, freezing much of them to share with friends and neighbors. Wouldn’t it be great to live next door?

She will soon be back in Sarasota, just now making her reservation for Halloween. She travels with her dog Chockie (short for “chocolate”), a dark-brown long haired, miniature dachshund, who will be two years old in November. She is “10 pounds of trouble”, but so very cute, she says, that you can’t be mad at her.

We look forward to welcoming them back to Sarasota, and to watch Flora continue to sprinkle her fairy dust to the children and young adults of this community.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, please visit www.CFsarasota.org or call 941.556.7103.


To see the story as it originally appeared online in Sarasota Scene Magazine in October 2022, click here.