The picture got Scott Garka thinking. A few years ago, after the passing of his mother, he asked his uncle about a photo of what appeared to be his maternal grandfather posing with an orchestra. “Mom hadn’t ever told me any story about the picture,” Garka recalls.
The uncle told him that Garka’s grandfather had played bass and conducted the orchestra on a Saturday morning television program in Philadelphia, and the photograph (shown above) was taken on the set. Further, family tradition said, Garka’s maternal grandmother had sung at Carnegie Hall. Things started making sense. Though most of his career has been in the business world, Garka shares the family love of music and performance. He sings bass and has acted in Richmond community theater productions. He also served on the board of the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen.
Five years ago, he performed as a member of the Richmond Men’s Chorus at the first Arts & Culture Xpo organized by Richmond’s CultureWorks, a regional nonprofit advocacy organization. In January, he became president of CultureWorks after the retirement of its founding director, John Bryan.
As we spoke, Garka was amid plans for the fifth annual Arts & Culture Xpo on June 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Science Museum of Virginia. “We’re going for a more summer festival feel,” he explains. This means food trucks and two stages for rotating a variety of entertainment. But the thrust of the free, public event is to raise awareness and funds for more than 50 local arts and culture organizations.
When in middle school, Garka created a family tree project — “very poorly,” he says, but he kept it, because when filling out the branches, he learned of piano tuners and violinists in his lineage. When he connected the family tree to the photo of his grandfather with the orchestra, Garka realized the richness of the family’s musical tradition.
“But somewhere, I took a sharp turn,” he says, chuckling. Garka earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and went on to complete a graduate degree in fundraising and development at the University of Richmond’s Institute on Philanthropy. Along the way, he became a certified public accountant, and worked for Capital One Financial Corp. and Arthur Andersen LLP. While senior director for consulting services with the Virginia Health Quality Center and considering a change in his professional life, he read of Bryan’s departure. “And I thought, ‘Well, this sounds like a pretty good fit to me,’" he says.
Since becoming the CultureWorks director, Garka has embarked on a region-wide listening tour to get better acquainted with more than 140 arts and cultural groups. “I’ve been drinking from the fire hose,” he says. “I’m just a sponge these days.” What he learns will inform the strategic plan that CultureWorks is working on to address how to better serve the region’s creative and performing organizations and ways to retain local talent.
Garka notes that in April, Forbes magazine devoted a column to “Spending Two Perfect Days” in Richmond. “It was great to see the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and its flower exhibit mentioned and several others, too,” he says. Garka’s goal is to ensure that, along with our touted cuisine and craft beer and historical sites, the arts are part of the picture the world sees when it looks at Richmond.