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    Museum short on endowment

    Supporters of the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art were hoping to have $2-million by January, but now they are shooting for 2003.

    By RICHARD DANIELSON

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 23, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- The building, with a triangular deck that juts toward Klosterman Road like the prow of a ship, is completely paid for and nearly finished.

    But administrators with St. Petersburg College say there is still fundraising to do for the new Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, which is scheduled to open in January.

    Museum supporters had hoped to amass a $2-million endowment to support the museum by the time it opened. So far, they've raised about half that and said last week it appears they won't hit their original target. Fundraisers now aim to have the endowment fully funded by the end of the museum's first year, in January 2003.

    "Anything sooner, of course, is better," said Janice Buchanan, the college foundation's director of development. If anything, she said, fundraisers are encouraged by the steadiness of support they've seen even as the national economy has sputtered.

    "The college's aim is to stay the course," Buchanan said.

    Last week, college president Carl Kuttler suggested "the economy is hurting us a little bit" when it comes to raising the endowment, but Buchanan wasn't as sure that's the case. Gifts have come in, on average, one or two a day. That has not slowed down even since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, she said. Last week, the foundation received a single gift of $300,000. That's on top of another $60,000 in recent contributions.

    Buchanan anticipates that people in North Pinellas will warm to the museum once they see it complete and see how it tells the story of 20th century art through the works and collection of one family of artists.

    "In some ways I feel it's been a matter that . . . when people see a building, and this is a very unusual building, that will make a difference," she said. "People can see, yes, this really is happening and can put their confidence in it."

    The 53,000-square-foot museum and hands-on art center is being built thanks to Tarpon Springs abstract artist Allen Leepa and his wife, Isabelle. In 1996, they gave the college $2.15-million, along with thousands of pieces of art that will make up the museum's collection.

    Most of the paintings, sketches and sculptures were created either by Leepa; his stepfather, mid 20th century artist Abraham Rattner; or Leepa's mother, Esther Gentle Rattner. The collection, however, also includes works by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Georges Rouault and Henry Moore.

    Buchanan believes some prospective donors have not stepped forward yet because, when it comes to modern art, "people have an automatic response that is, 'I'm not sure I like it.' "

    In many cases, she said, that attitude should change once the public sees "that this, indeed, will be an art museum with a difference."

    Along with its main galleries, the museum will have an interactive art education center featuring a replica of Picasso's Guernica, the artist's huge and dramatic tribute to a Basque city bombed during the Spanish Civil War. It is the only such reproduction that the Picasso family has authorized for display anywhere. The exhibit will let patrons push buttons for recordings that describe different aspects of the painting, its inspiration and its production, and the work will be lit from behind so that the feature selected is highlighted.

    The interactive area also will include displays that allow students to watch a work of art being created, while allowing them to pause the video at any point for the artist's explanation of what's happening.

    The building, however, will house more than just the museum. It also will include a campus library about twice the size of the current library, an auditorium that could be used for receptions and gallery space for traveling exhibits, and student and faculty artwork. Kuttler said he has traveled to Washington already to work on a relationship in which Smithsonian Institution staff members would conduct seminars and other programs at the museum.

    There are also three student art studios with floor-to-ceiling windows facing north.

    "From the artist's perspective, the northern light is the one that's most desirable, and they were designed with that in mind," Tarpon Springs campus provost Nick Billiris said.

    On a lower art storage level, art preparation rooms include large windows so that students in the hall can watch art restorers at work.

    Administrators expect the $10.5-million building to be finished in about 45 days. The campus library and classrooms will be used the first week of January. The museum is scheduled to open Jan. 22.

    To build the museum's endowment, fundraisers plan to launch a membership drive soon. The aim is to sign up 1,500 museum members, at levels of support starting with low-cost student memberships, during the museum's first year.

    College administrators also have worked with public schools in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties to develop an art curriculum that builds on the museum's collection. Once complete, they say, the Leepa-Rattner museum will bring art much closer to residents who now must travel to St. Petersburg, Tampa or Sarasota for a similar experience.

    "We are going to be serving what I feel is a vastly culturally underserved audience," museum director Lynn Whitelaw said.

    "It's hard to get people to buy into a vision," Whitelaw said. That vision, though, should become more clear "when people see the facility, the programming, the collections, the whole service, social (and) cultural."

    - Times Staff writer Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or danielson@sptimes.com.

    How to help

    To contribute to the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, contact Dr. Janice Buchanan, director of development, SPC Development Foundation, P.O. Box 13489, St. Petersburg, FL 33733 or call her at (727) 341-3319.

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