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Museum finds stability under Ken Rollins

As interim director, Ken Rollins helped bring stability to the Tampa Museum of Art, which was draped in uncertainty when he was hired in 2005.

STEFANIE BOYAR | Times

As interim director, Ken Rollins helped bring stability to the Tampa Museum of Art, which was draped in uncertainty when he was hired in 2005.

TAMPA

Ken Rollins, interim director of the Tampa Museum of Art, is finally getting to retire on Wednesday, three years after tackling a job few would envy.

Rollins, 65, arrived at the museum in the fall of 2005 after serving as director of the Gulf Coast Museum of Art and the Polk Museum of Art.

The museum was in turmoil after plans collapsed for a glamorous new museum on Ashley Drive. As a result, donors were bailing and the previous director had resigned (some said under pressure). Plus, the museum's leaders and city officials, especially Mayor Pam Iorio, were in a tense standoff over who was in control — the board of trustees who oversee museum operations or the city, which owned the museum land and building.

Even the choice of Rollins was contentious. He was Iorio's pick, and some trustees resented his presence at first.

Today, stability reigns.

Fundraising efforts replaced much of what was lost when donors fled following the failure of the first plan.

Construction for a new museum on the downtown riverfront began in April with an expected opening in late 2009.

The board and city officials made peace.

The museum moved to its temporary site and has compensated for a lack of significant exhibition space with beefed-up educational programs for children and popular social events targeting young adults.

Ken Rollins turned a lot of lemons into lemonade.

He stayed on the job nine months longer than his original two-year commitment when he saw it would take longer than planned to get the new museum plans rolling.

A search committee expects to announce a permanent replacement by summer's end.

By that time, Rollins will probably be in Mexico at his new pied-a-terre, returning to the sculpting that he studied in graduate school, after seeing combat in Vietnam. He had to abandon his own art when he became a museum administrator about three decades ago.

Rollins' Tampa tenure has been a winding road, and there have been missteps along the way.

In the most important ways, though, Rollins got it right and is the single biggest reason the Tampa Museum got back on track.

He did what he said he would. A thing to be respected under any circumstances but especially admirable under those he was given.

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

Museum finds stability under Ken Rollins 07/07/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 8:25am]

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