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Chihuly success allows Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg to expand

Sue McFarland, foreground, of Safety Harbor and her daughter Kelly McKendry, right, of Clearwater and grandson Christopher McKendry view a Chihuly Collection exhibit.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times (2010)

Sue McFarland, foreground, of Safety Harbor and her daughter Kelly McKendry, right, of Clearwater and grandson Christopher McKendry view a Chihuly Collection exhibit.

ST. PETERSBURG — What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the Morean Arts Center was so close to financial collapse that administrators were considering closing it. But the Chihuly Collection, which is owned by the Morean, has reversed the economic picture.

Since opening on Beach Drive in July, its installations by the famous glass artist Dale Chihuly have drawn more than 120,000 visitors. The Morean is now operating in the black, covering its operating shortfall, establishing a cash reserve and paying off debt, said executive director Katee Tully. Even tuition for the popular adult and children's classes is being lowered.

The Morean is now planning some changes to the facility at 719 Central Ave., including adding a cafe, which is scheduled to open June 17. The new cafe will be at the corner of Seventh Street and Central Avenue in the part of the center that used to be the gift shop.

Tully said the center will use part of the exhibition areas on the first floor for new programs to engage the community more actively.

What's coming:

• Spice Routes Cafe, open during arts center hours, serving breakfast, lunch and snacks, with inside seating for 40 to 60 people and sidewalk tables for about 20. Plans are that Judy Stanko will operate it. Stanko is one of the founders of the Saturday Morning Market and operates Spice Routes, which serves "global soul food" there.

• Adjoining the cafe, the Art Lounge will be used for reading, computer work and spillover from the cafe. A wall of shelves will hold most of the Morean's large library of arts books, which has always been off-limits to the public. Visitors can peruse the books on site.

• Another gallery will become the Make Space with activities relating to the current show. "Things people can do in 20 minutes," said Tully. "The idea is to change and rotate activities quickly so people will find something new." Among the ideas: a temporary community paint-by-numbers project on one of the gallery walls.

• A community collaborative space will be in the west gallery. During the summer, freeFall Theatre Company will re-create a set from its current production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with costumed mannequins and a lighting box that lets visitors change the colors and tone of the set. On one wall, they can write a few lines of dialogue in response to the costumes. "We hope that we'll have a new play when we're done," Tully said. "Or not."

There will be lots of nighttime events, too. An art mob is being organized, similar to a flash mob, with art interventions in public spaces. (It'll be legal, she said.) A flash mob is a group of people who gather in public places to perform some designated activity. It is often recorded and released on social media sharing websites.

"We want to get away from people thinking we're a museum, where things are untouchable," she said. "We want to introduce a collaborative spirit into our programming."

About one-half of the current exhibition space will remain dedicated to conventional art exhibitions. The summer show is titled Colorpalooza, which will explore the ways artists use color.

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

Chihuly success allows Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg to expand 05/16/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 16, 2011 11:04pm]
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