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Art

Chihuly exhibit will be museum, not just gallery

By LENNIE BENNETT
Published October 12, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Add one more name to the roster of art museums in the Tampa Bay area: Dale Chihuly.

The popular artist's world-famous glass sculptures will soon be housed in a not-for-profit museum bearing his name, with both collection and facility owned by the Arts Center.

The Chihuly museum will be part of the center's new $35-million, 136,000-square-foot facility on Central Avenue between Eighth and Ninth Streets. It will be the only museum in the world devoted to the work of Chihuly.

The shift to museum status means far greater prestige for the project and for St. Petersburg as an arts destination.

Philanthropist Beth Morean and developer Jimmy Aviram have agreed to donate a $6-million Chihuly collection outright, Evelyn Craft, executive director of the Arts Center said Wednesday.

The gift will be formally announced at an event today featuring Mayor Rick Baker.

The original plan was for a gallery of Chihuly's complex, colorful sculptures that would help promote sales of his glass, much like a high-end retail showroom and retail store. Aviram, who is building a high-rise condominium on that block, would have purchased the Chihuly collection along with Morean. When they recouped their investment, their intention was to turn the collection over to the Arts Center. But that could have taken years, and it was never a sure thing.

The Chihuly facility "takes on a different life when it is no longer a venue for selling glass," Craft said. "Jimmy and Beth giving us the collection on the front end enables us to create a museum that will be permanently and forever linked to St. Petersburg," Craft said.

"Taking it to museum status will raise its profile and the city's profile throughout the world."

The new Chihuly museum "could be as big a draw as the Dali, which attracts about 200,000 visitors annually," said Marshall Rousseau, director emeritus of the Dali Museum, who will lead the new glass museum.

Craft says that with its new status, the Chihuly component is being redesigned to be a more integral part of the Arts Center. Only conceptual drawings have been completed, but she said the space will be larger.

About one-third of the $35-million in construction costs has been raised, Craft said. Morean has pledged $10-million. Groundbreaking is planned for fall 2008.

Another aspect that distinguished the new Arts Center is its role as the centerpiece of a new condominium project, the Arts. Craft said that project is moving ahead, but that the museum's future is no longer linked to it.

"Fundraising is going very well with this new twist," Craft said. "The Arts Center is in a position to move forward independently in the project."

Having a permanent museum collection of the most famous glass artist in the world, "will give us a chance to work with him as his work evolves and to continue collecting," Craft said. "It's a unique opportunity."

Lennie Bennett can be reached at 727 893-8293 or lennie@sptimes.com.

[Last modified October 12, 2006, 06:05:07]


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