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Tampa Museum of Art scoops up members, visitors, gelato

Today is almost the 100-day mark for the Tampa Museum of Art. Its major inaugural show, "A Celebration of Matisse," moved on in April, and two exhibitions of new media have opened, with videos by Danish artist Jesper Just and light sculptures by Leo Villareal, who created the large scale exterior installation on the building's south facade. Times art critic Lennie Bennett checked in recently with Todd Smith, the museum's director, to see how things are going.

What has attendance been during the first months?

We had 36,000 people in 73 days.

Compared to what projections?

We projected conservatively, 4,000 a month.

So you far exceeded what you needed to break even.

Yes, but that's an average over 12 months because we figured that summer is always slower. But we are thrilled.

Any surprises?

We take ZIP codes so we know exactly who's visiting. Eighty percent were from Tampa, which isn't surprising, but we also had at least one visitor from every single state. We were kind of surprised that so few people from Pinellas County came. I see that as an untapped market.

And how are sales at the gift shop and cafe?

Both are doing great. We've had $75,000 in gross sales, double our estimate, and served more than 5,000 scoops of gelato.

You open and close later than the other area museums on a daily basis. How's that working?

I'm committed to the extended hours at night. We're not a daylong experience and people can stop by after work for a visit and then get dinner.

Are you booking the museum for many after-hours private events?

Lots of weddings and corporate functions. I don't think there's a free Friday or Saturday before August. Of course, other nights are still available.

What has been the most gratifying?

To watch people take ownership of the building. We know we might present challenging art sometimes but we want the overall experience to be comfortable. People seem comfortable here.

And to watch kids up in the Margulies Collection (with several conceptual contemporary installations) get it is so wonderful. I also see a growing appreciation for the antiquities collection with its new gallery and installation.

Why did you choose to follow up the Matisse show with Jesper Just's videos, which some visitors will consider difficult, even provocative?

I wanted our first year to make a statement about who we are and to carve out a niche for us in the community. The Matisse was an important show and I feel that way about this show.

Any more good news?

We have 1,250 new members, with a total of 2,200. It's the highest it's ever been.

Tampa Museum of Art scoops up members, visitors, gelato 05/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 5:15pm]
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