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.

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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.

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