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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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.

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