ST. PETERSBURG — Katee Tully, executive director of the Morean Arts Center, which owns the popular Chihuly Collection, is leaving at the end of the month after the board of trustees decided not to renew her contract.
Wayne Atherholt, the center's director of marketing, was named interim director.
"Katee has been our game-changer from the time when the Morean went from a single exhibition space to multiple venues," said board president Bob Glaser. "Our next phase is a focus on day-to-day operation, building our educational program, and we felt another person might be better suited to do that."
Tully came to the Morean, at 719 Central Ave., as its capital campaign director and was named executive director in 2009. She led the center through more than a year of financial turmoil, when it was on the brink of closing, and into fiscal stability with the July 2010 opening of the Chihuly Collection, a permanent group of installations by international glass art star Dale Chihuly at 400 Beach Drive, also in St. Petersburg. It drew about 250,000 visitors during its first five months and in its second year has met attendance projections of about 120,000.
The Morean added a hot shop with popular glass-blowing demonstrations at its original site, and its clay classes were moved to a nearby historic train station that had been converted to St. Petersburg Clay Company to accommodate class demand.
But Tully's tenure was marked by controversial changes, such as eliminating memberships and a high employee turnover.
"If there were some folks who were not pleased with the changes that had to take place," Glaser said, "Katee sometimes had to be a lightning rod."
"Katee was brought in to get the Chihuly done, and she did," said Beth Morean, a former trustee and $10 million donor after whom the center is named. "But some of her management style and the direction she has taken the arts center in have not sat well with the community, the board or the members. We were moving too far away from our education mission."
Tully couldn't be reached for comment.
The arts center began in 1917 as the Art Club, a small group of local artists, and has evolved into a cultural center that serves several thousand adults and children in on- and off-site classes and programs. It also has changing exhibitions. About five months ago, some exhibition galleries were repurposed as hands-on activity areas and informal gathering spaces like a cafe.
Atherholt, who has held top marketing jobs at many museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa and the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, was the director of the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach before joining the Morean in February.
Glaser said a search committee has been formed to hire a permanent director, and the search wouldn't be limited to the Tampa Bay area.