Florida Museum of Photographic Arts finds perfect location in Tampa's beer can building

The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts considers its new home an ideal fit after relocating several times.
The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts started packing after an exhibit of works by Bud Lee, center, whose photos have appeared in Esquire, Vogue and Life. TYLER TJOMSLAND   |   Times
The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts started packing after an exhibit of works by Bud Lee, center, whose photos have appeared in Esquire, Vogue and Life.TYLER TJOMSLAND | Times
Published February 16 2012
Updated February 16 2012

EDITOR'S NOTE: A correction notice has been appended below.

DOWNTOWN — The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is about to be cubed.

Next month, the museum moves into the five-story atrium called the "Cubes" attached to downtown's Rivergate Tower, known as the beer can building.

"We went from an obscure location with no signage and no place to park to the exact opposite,'' said Roger Robson, chairman of the board. "It's a very high profile space, easy to see, with a phenomenal interior. It's mind-boggling."

Relocating from Jackson Street, where it has operated since 2006, puts the museum in the waterfront arts district that includes the Tampa Museum of Art and the Glazer Children's Museum.

Opening day is March 10. The first exhibition, "Andy Warhol & Friends," runs through May 27.

Volunteers have begun packing up the former site, which closed Feb. 11, after ending "Bud Lee's America," an exhibit of the Plant City photographer's famous photographs and the last exhibit at the Jackson Street location.

At the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive, the museum will occupy more than 8,000 square feet over two floors. Chuck Levin, a founder and current board member, declined to reveal details of the lease.

"But I will say that the landlord worked with us to the benefit of the museum and the community,'' Levin said. "We bring something to the building and they bring something to us. Everyone feels the synergy."

The museum's main gallery will fill the second floor of the Cubes. The third floor will display the 250-piece collection of contemporary and historic photographs, as well as regional and local exhibitions. This is also where the library will be located and classes and workshops will be held. Parking is available in an adjacent underground garage.

Levin looks forward to advancing community outreach and education after the move.

"This will give us space to have a revolving show of children's work," Levin said, describing the Literacy Through Photography program for at-risk children.

"We give kids cameras and require a story about their images to bring literature into the fun of photography.'' He named partnerships with the Shriners, Boys & Girls Clubs, Joshua House and Metropolitan Ministries, among others.

Robson said a generous donation from Celia and Jim Ferman facilitated the move.

Now he is organizing a capital campaign. "We really need a permanent endowment of at least $5 million,'' he said, "and that's the point where we would consider naming rights."

A search for a curator and an executive director to replace Melinda Chavez who stepped down in November will begin later this year.

Recalling the museum's beginnings, Levin, a lawyer, said he was representing Old Hyde Park Village when its managers offered a rent-free storefront to get the museum started in 2001.

"With borrowed photographs,'' Levin said, chuckling.

"We thought we might be having a one-show museum until 150 people showed up for the opening reception.

Over the next five years, however, the museum would be bumped to three locations within the village as landlords gave priority to paying tenants.

Finally, in 2006, he said the board elected to move downtown and pay rent. Membership grew from 80 to 800 members and the museum moved from one site at the corner of Jackson and Tampa streets to another within the same block.

All the while, Levin had his eye on another of his clients, Rivergate Tower. Negotiations began four months ago, and the vision came into focus.

"Photography is so accessible with or without a background in art history," Levin said, citing examples from some of the 50 exhibitions the museum has hosted. "It brings people together and creates a dialogue."

Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.

CORRECTION: The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts opened on the corner of Jackson and Tampa streets in 2006. Earlier versions of this story appearing in print and online gave an incorrect year.