Extreme Makeover: Museum Edition

Tampa Bay may be in a real estate slump, but the cultural sector is entering a building boom. A guide to what's opening when.

click to enlarge MODEL HOME: Architect Yann Weymouth with a model of St. Petersburgs expanded Museum of Fine Arts, for which he designed the new Hazel Hough Wing. - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
MODEL HOME: Architect Yann Weymouth with a model of St. Petersburgs expanded Museum of Fine Arts, for which he designed the new Hazel Hough Wing.

If it's true that when an art museum gets a new home, a community gets a new living room, residents of the Bay area should expect to see an extreme cultural home makeover unfold here over the next three years. Between now and 2011, four local art museums plan to more than double their collective exhibition space, and a fifth institution could join them by 2013. Aside from showcasing artworks, these new cultural "houses" will further enliven downtowns, help redevelop waterfronts and provide a public space for people to meet.

But first, all but one of them must be built.

One thing seems certain: a new museum is a good investment, even when taxpayers foot part of the bill. According to a 2004 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts, in a single year alone the economic impact of the arts in Tampa Bay is $521.3 million. While the visual arts can lay claim to only a fraction of that impact, the presence of a strong art museum in a city's cultural landscape can raise the tide of awareness and attendance for cultural institutions in music and theater, for example, and vice versa. (And so St. Petersburg, with a new Mahaffey Theater, an expanded Museum of Fine Arts and plans for new facilities for American Stage, the Salvador Dalí Museum and The Arts Center, is sitting pretty on a wealth of future cultural synergy; similarly, the developers of the Grand Central condo in Tampa's Channelside district saw the benefit of including within it a new home for Stageworks Theater Company.) Committed investment in the arts sends a message that a community values creativity, and while downtown arts districts are probably overrated as urban panaceas, waving the arts-and-culture flag is essential to attracting retiring baby boomers and young millennials, the generations expected to drive the economy in coming years.

Shepherding a new museum to completion is a Herculean task. Navigating stakeholders' needs and expectations, the politics of trustee boards and government funding, and — oh! — the never-ending fundraising, takes leaders with vision. And if you survive that stuff, the logistical details might just kill you.

"Everyone has moved their home or apartment at one time or another, and we all know how disruptive that is and how long it takes to get reorganized. If you just imagine moving the contents of a 40,000-square-foot building and a library and art collection that requires very careful packing and the associated equipment, you can imagine," says Ken Rollins, interim director of the Tampa Museum of Art, about his institution's move to West Tampa during construction on the TMA's new building downtown.

Factor in the inevitable introspective journey toward a new identity that most museums make in tandem with new construction, and you wind up with a process that combines elements of childbirth, reconstructive surgery and a personality readjustment. That such transformations are taking place around the Bay foretells a new cultural golden age for the area. In chronological order of their projected completion dates, here are some of the art museum projects we'll be watching unfold in the next few years. After all, their new homes will be ours, too.

Museum of Fine Arts: March 2008

Compared to the fanfare that has surrounded other institutions (say, the TMA), attention to the expansion of St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts has been downright modest. Of course, the MFA's stately Beach Drive home — the peach-colored union of a classical temple and a Mediterranean villa — isn't making way for a whole new building, just adding a sleek, new 33,000-square-foot wing tucked subtly behind the older structure while more than doubling the museum's footprint. (Not subtly enough, however, for residents of the Cloisters condominiums, which is located across Beach Drive from the museum. Six of them filed a lawsuit last August claiming that the new wing was being built one story higher than promised and as a result would block their water views. According to MFA Director John Schloder, a judge dismissed the claim, the residents refiled, "and the Museum has filed for its dismissal again.")

In the region, only Sarasota's Ringling Museum of Art outshines the MFA, which has a well-earned reputation for its extensive permanent collection of tourist magnets like Impressionist paintings, a comprehensive representation of Western art history and artifacts from around the world.

The new Hazel Hough Wing echoes the colors and textures of the original MFA building in restrained, glass-and-concrete box form. Presenting a seamless integration with the older building to Beach Drive, the wing puts a bolder face to the waterfront, leveraging the museum's previously neglected "back yard" for the first time. Visitors will soon enter the museum through the new wing from either Beach Drive or the Bayshore Drive waterfront and congregate in a 2-story glass conservatory reminiscent of an indoor Italian piazza or town square. As visitors gather in this space for coffee or lunch at a new café or to attend an event, the temptations of both the museum's permanent collection and traveling exhibits will be nearby, says MFA director John Schloder.

In the new wing, double-height exhibition spaces will allow for traveling exhibits that may include large-scale modern and contemporary works of art. An interactive children's gallery and a much-expanded space for the museum's reference library will provide a boost to educational initiatives. As a result, galleries in the original building, which will undergo minor renovations later this year, will be used to show off more of the permanent collection. (Prior to the expansion, the museum could only exhibit about 10 percent of its collection at once.)

"Florida for some time has had world-class [art] collections. Now we're putting them into world-class buildings," says Yann Weymouth, architect of the wing and senior vice president and director of architectural design for international firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK). Weymouth, whose office is located in Tampa, also designed the Ringling's Searing Wing, which opened last year, and worked under I.M. Pei in the 1980s to build the Louvre's glass pyramid; he is now at work on a new building for the Salvador Dalí Museum.

With the wing's public opening just over a month away, the MFA remains about $250,000 away from its fundraising goal — pocket change compared to the project's $21 million budget. The wing bears the name of the project's most generous contributor, Hazel Hough, a longtime museum volunteer and one-time education chairperson. After the donation by Hough and her husband, William R. Hough, the amount of which the MFA declined to disclose, the museum embarked on a capital campaign that was given a boost last year when the Kresge Foundation kicked in a grant of $750,000 pegged to completion of all other fundraising. The museum expects to wrap up the final leg by selling gallery naming rights and turning to the public.

On Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23, the new wing opens to the community with a weekend of free admission for museum visitors. (A fancier gala event on Feb. 23 will showcase the unadorned architecture to a crowd of donors and public officials.) Rarely and never-before seen pieces from the museum's collection will fill the new space, along with an exhibit of artworks donated by museum founder Margaret Acheson Stuart and her friends and family. Saturday's "Family Day" activities include a mask-making workshop and art parade along Bayshore Drive, for which visitors are encouraged to create costumes inspired by works in the permanent collection. Schloder brought the art parade concept with him from his previous tenure at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where the annual event now attracts around 40,000 people.

For Hazel Hough, the wing's namesake, all the changes add up to chance to raise the profile of a beloved institution. "So many times, I've heard people say the Museum of Fine Arts is the best-kept secret in St. Petersburg. Well, we don't want it to be a secret," Hough says.

Tampa Museum of Art: Fall 2009

After several false starts, the gears of a new Tampa Museum of Art are finally in motion. Drivers headed down Ashley Drive this month can see the beginnings of a methodical, three-month demolition by a city crew designed to salvage materials from the former museum building, now empty, for reuse where possible. As soon as next month, construction may begin on a new structure designed by San Francisco architect Stanley Saitowitz, and during the transition the museum is operating out of an interim location in West Tampa. All this following a 2002 design by architect Rafael Viñoly that failed to come to fruition, a second search for an architect based on scaled-down plans for a smaller building and a trio of proposed locations abandoned as too expensive. Steve Klindt, the museum's director of development and public affairs, is relieved to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"It's been a hard birth," he says.

While the public has welcomed announcements of other museum expansions, the TMA's redevelopment seems to pull residents in different directions. A group of activists led by Davis Islands resident Neil Cosentino has lobbied for the reuse of the former museum building as a community arts center. Separate controversies surround the state of two parks adjacent to the museum site. Curtis Hixon Park, commissioned by the city and designed by land artist Alan Sonfist, is to be replaced by a new park designed by landscape architect Thomas Balsley, the plans for which were recently greeted with skepticism by Tampa City Council. And the fate of Kiley Gardens, cherished by preservationists as a landmark in garden design, remains uncertain. According to Dave Vaughn, Tampa's director of contract administration, the city is currently working on a plan for "repair and limited reconstruction" of Kiley. There is no schedule for the project.

Now that financing for the TMA's $26.5 million new building is secure — $9 million in private donations and $17.5 million in city funding — preliminary work on the site adjacent to the Poe Garage in Curtis Hixon Park will likely begin soon. Because Saitowitz's design incorporates quick-to-build components made of pre-cast concrete, Tampa residents will see a structure spring out of the ground in time for projected completion in late 2009.

Renderings advertise a futuristic floating box that hovers above a glass lobby near the riverfront and glows with gentle light. But some elements presented in Saitowitz's design — including an environmentally friendly "green roof" and skin for the building's exterior made of programmable LEDs — will be added only if the museum raises sufficient funds before the end of construction. (Exterior lighting will be included regardless, but its technical nature and complexity is unclear.) The 66,000-square-foot building will offer visitors three times as much exhibition space, including galleries devoted to the museum's collections of Greek and Roman antiquities (currently on loan to the Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences), studio glass and works on paper.

The museum's staff emphasize that between now and the opening of the new building, the TMA is not closed. In an interim location at the Centro Espanol de West Tampa at 2306 N. Howard Ave., exhibitions and the monthly Art After Dark event geared toward young professionals will continue. In fact, the move may spell good news for lovers of contemporary art: Because the interim location lacks the humidity controls that would enable it to borrow historical works from other institutions, the TMA will focus on art of the present moment by local and regional talents. "It's freeing me up to do some exhibitions that were a little bit out there," says curator Elaine Gustafson. The first Art After Dark in the interim location takes place Friday, Feb. 15 from 8 to 11 p.m. and features the work of West Tampa artists Tracy Midulla Reller, Edgar Sanchez Cumbas, Kathie Olivas and others; "Drawing Beyond the Plane," a show of genre-bending contemporary drawing, opens March 7.

Along with the new building, a new identity campaign geared toward attracting diverse audiences and a public fundraising campaign for the museum endowment will be part of TMA's makeover. And later this year, the museum's board of trustees will hire a new director, someone they hope to see on board by the fall start of the school year. Interim director Ken Rollins, former director of Lakeland's Polk Museum of Art and Largo's Gulf Coast Museum of Art, who has shepherded the museum through a series of intense challenges, will now dedicate his energies to retirement.

"It's been a pretty exciting and gratifying end to my museum career," Rollins says.

The Arts Center: Spring 2010

January brought news that an expansion of The Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg will no longer be tied to the development of The Arts condominiums. Plans for the condos continue despite slow sales and construction delays, but they no longer include the adaptive reuse of an historic bank building at Central Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King St. N. as a new home for The Arts Center. Instead, The Arts Center will construct a new building, designed by Tampa's Alfonso Architects, in phases on its current site. After choosing a final design later this month, they plan to break ground in September, completing the building by May 2010.

That's a firm deadline, says executive director Evelyn Craft. The new facility is contractually bound to be open by that date to showcase the Chihuly Collection, a $6 million collection of glass works by the renowned artist; it will be the first and only museum in the world devoted exclusively to his work. Add a state-of-the-art glass-blowing hotshop, expanded classroom facilities and new exhibition spaces for both member shows and rotating exhibits — and the revamped Arts Center promises to stamp downtown St. Petersburg and its arts community with international appeal.

Craft hopes the Chihuly Collection will draw visitors to The Arts Center who would ordinarily shy away from art museums. "Contemporary art is a hard sell. Names like Dale Chihuly — that's one of the few names that really translates to the average person," she says. Once inside, visitors will find expanded classrooms for the Arts Center's extensive classes in clay, sculpture, painting, printmaking, photography, metalsmithing and more. Gallery space, currently limited to 5,000 square feet, will more than double in size.

Beth Ann Morean, a longtime Arts Center supporter and artist who also provided the $1.2 million grant that helped the center expand in 1997, has donated a sizeable chunk of funding for the new building. In recognition of her $8 million contribution, the new facility will be called the Beth Ann Morean Arts Center. In January, Bank of America kicked in a $1 million grant, winning them naming rights to a children's education center. Both Morean and The Arts developer Jimmy Aviram, a longtime friend of Chihuly who originally suggested the partnership, contributed to a downpayment on the Chihuly Collection, though additional fundraising remains to be completed.

As for The Arts condos, with a domestic recession looming, Aviram and his partners, an Israeli firm called DSR, are hoping for success with international customers in Europe, Israel, Macau, Hong Kong and China, where they've opened sales offices. "Through [DSR's] connections we are going to market outside, and we will come back when the market does," Aviram says.

The Salvador Dalí Museum: Fall 2010

Folks at St. Petersburg's Salvador Dalí Museum have known for years that their museum needs a new building because of its perilous proximity to the waterfront. At its current location in a converted marine warehouse steps from the Bay, the museum's extensive collection of paintings by art history's most notorious Surrealist is below the 10-year flood plain.

Recent hurricanes have driven home the urgency of building a new facility, says director Hank Hine. Once the need was established, the museum began to envision many changes for its future home. With HOK's Weymouth as architect, Hine is now in the late stages of hammering out a design that will not only beef up storage for the permanent collection (raising it high on a second story and enclosing it with robust walls) but also pays homage to Dalí's distinctive personality. Groundbreaking is expected to take place this fall with completion projected for late 2010.

"The die has been cast, and we are crossing the Rubicon," Hine says.

The new, 75,000-square-foot building will sit closer to downtown St. Petersburg near Al Lang Field. (Hine declined to disclose a dollar amount for the project's budget, but its footprint makes it the largest museum expansion in the area.) Exhibition space will double, allowing the museum to mount larger shows, and an outdoor garden with a maze will have sightlines to the Bay. But perhaps most importantly, a much larger reception and orientation area will offer visitors an introduction to what Hine calls "the dividend of art": its ability to convey a complex and even contradictory world in images that are intuitive even to the greenest viewer — a cornerstone of Dalí's art.

"A really high percentage of our visitors have never been to an art museum before. There's something about the personality of Dalí that makes them think, maybe I can really get this after all," he says.

One huge challenge the museum has faced during the design process is to offer its visitors — over half of whom come to St. Petersburg expressly to visit the Dalí museum — a unique destination without caricaturing its namesake. In designs, the proposed museum combines elements with two different styles, associated with two halves of Dalí's personality: a modern, box-like structure with roots in classical architecture and a more flamboyant glass element that appears to flow over the building and wrap around it.

"Dali's work is, of course, surreal. He enjoyed the abrupt contrast and surprise of morphing forms and warping things. It's not anything anyone can imitate with success, in my view," Weymouth says.

"We are staying very abstract. There will be no melting clocks ... in the architecture."

University of South Florida Institute For Research in Art: 2011-2013

At USF's Contemporary Art Museum, a longtime wish for the CAM to reap the benefits of synergy with its sister institution, Graphicstudio, drives plans for a new building. Both the museum and the printmaking workshop are grouped under the umbrella title USF Institute For Research in Art (IRA), but with separate locations on campus and, in the past, separate leaders, each has failed to capitalize on its connection to the other, says director Margaret Miller. Now at the helm of both, Miller has begun to leverage their joint power, luring contemporary artists of international repute to USF with the two-fold temptation of an exhibition at the museum and a residency with Graphicstudio's experienced printmakers.

The IRA expansion entails the construction of an additional, 40,000-square-foot building in an area adjacent to the Contemporary Art Museum, which will remain in use. Nearly three-quarters of the new space will house Graphicstudio, which currently rents space across campus. The addition of 15,000 square feet of exhibition space (more than doubling the current galleries) will enable the CAM to showcase more of its permanent collection of 5,000 artworks on a regular basis. But the crown jewel of the expansion is a 3,000-square-foot area expected to serve as an archive and study center for famed artist James Rosenquist's work in prints. Like The Arts Center's Chihuly partnership, a Rosenquist archive and study center would lend the IRA superstar caché.

"This will give us recognition as a major center for the visual arts certainly in Florida and, I think, internationally," Miller says. "It's one of the most exciting things that has happened during my career."

Likely the last visual arts institution to join in the fundraising fray, the IRA faces both advantages and disadvantages in the field. Miller hopes to raise $12.5 million with a capital campaign that will begin this fall. Once that mark is reached, the state will kick in a matching grant (standard for projects built on state university campuses), making the $25 million addition possible. With Rosenquist advocating on behalf of the archive, the project may find ready support; on the other hand, fears of a recession have made donors less comfortable parting with money. Miller hopes to complete the project in three to five years, but she isn't making any promises

"Graphicstudio sales have remained strong, so maybe people who make major contributions to arts centers will not be affected [by a recession]. Let's hope that's true," Miller says.

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