ST. PETERSBURG — Curators are the heart of a museum, and William and Hazel Hough will keep that curatorial heart beating strong at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, with a $2 million gift to the museum's endowment.
Their gift will establish a new curatorial position for modern and contemporary art. In addition, an existing position held by Jennifer Hardin will be named the Hazel and William Hough Chief Curator.
The Houghs are among the most generous philanthropists in the Tampa Bay region. In less than a decade, they have given, by a conservative estimate because they don't always disclose the amount of their gifts, at least $50 million to organizations and institutions, mostly arts and educational ones, that include the University of Florida ($30 million, their largest gift to date), American Stage, the Palladium Theater, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the Canterbury School and the Dalí Museum. They became lead donors for the new wing at MFA that opened in 2008 and is named in honor of Hazel Hough.
They're involved with all their beneficiaries, but the MFA endowment gift was especially personal for them.
The Houghs, both 85, wanted to honor Hardin, who joined the museum in 1995. "She does so much for the museum," he said.
As for the new position, Hazel Hough, who with her husband collects contemporary art, said, "We believe the museum, with its broad range, needs more than one curator to fulfill its mission."
Curators arrange exhibitions, oversee art in the permanent collection, help educate the public about it and usually lead efforts to acquire art or funds for it.
Since the 2004 sale of William R. Hough and Co., a municipal bond firm, and Republic Bank, which Hough controlled, the St. Petersburg couple has made substantial contributions to numerous arts and educational entities through personal gifts and their Hough Family Foundation.
The current state of the economy, which has inhibited many donors, wasn't on his mind, he said. "Right now, I'm able to do it. I might not be able to some years from now."
The museum, which opened in 1965, has an encyclopedic collection, beginning with ancient art that continues to the present. Until recent years, its holdings in contemporary art have been slim. The gift will place more emphasis on expanding that area.
"We want to be engaged in art of our time," said museum director Kent Lydecker, "as well as the art of all time. Art is constantly evolving."
Lydecker said a search by the museum will begin soon but has no timetable for the selection. Qualifications would include a doctoral degree and some experience. And, just as important, the ability to inspire other patrons in the future.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or [email protected]