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Tampa's elite toast the new Museum of Art

Architect Stanley Saitowitz speaks during a donor gala at the new Tampa Museum of Art on Thursday The Museum opens to the public on Saturday.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Architect Stanley Saitowitz speaks during a donor gala at the new Tampa Museum of Art on Thursday The Museum opens to the public on Saturday.

TAMPA — High praise rang out for the new Tampa Museum of Art on Thursday during an invitation-only opening gala for the facility's biggest donors.

Cornelia and Dick Corbett, Jim and Celia Ferman, Carol and Frank Morsani — just a few of the boldface names in local philanthropic circles who were there.

Architect Stanley Saitowitz came from San Francisco, art collector Marty Margulies and French Consul General Gael de Maisonneuve arrived from Miami.

"You're a tenacious and passionate group, and I appreciate that," said Mayor Pam Iorio, alluding to the decade it took to get the 66,000-square-foot museum built. "You found a way to work through the obstacles, find a new vision and make it a reality."

Executive director Todd Smith thanked the believers — from builders to benefactors — for their contributions to the $34 million waterfront museum, half paid by the city and half from private funds.

Gospel great Vickie Winans and her son, Marvin Winans, Jr. plus sixth-season America Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle raised their voices as well. The joyous sound reverberated through Morsani Lobby when the Deeper Life Ministries Choir joined them.

But the biggest hallelujahs came from the trustees. Any controversy over location, design or architect was history this historic night.

Cornelia Corbett's family pledge of $5 million is the largest individual contribution, and the reason the facility is named the Cornelia Corbett Center. She used a football analogy to describe the museum's long road to completion.

"Mayor Dick Greco handled the pre-game," she said, (board member) Jeff Tucker carried the ball."

Corbett said she got sacked a couple of times as the first quarterback and the second quarter was a stalemate until Iorio came in. Groundbreaking was halftime, she said, then chairman of the board Ray Ifert took over as quarterback "and brought this project home."

Mise en Place, operator of the museum's Sono Cafe, grilled steak and seared duck breast outside. Indoors, waiters passed pork belly on tiny china plates, sliced charcuterie and scooped gelato.

A rare Alexander Calder mobile, Les trois barres (The Three Bars), was an unexpected surprise.

Food and drinks stayed downstairs when the crowd of 300 climbed to the second-floor galleries. They eyed 50 years of Matisse, Greek and Roman antiquities, photographs and a modern multimedia exhibit.

Just when guests thought they could stop pinching themselves, more fanfare.

A spectacular sound and light show — fireworks and music — set off Sky, a public art installation by digital artist Leo Villareal. It will be seen nightly as part of the museum's permanent collection.

"I never thought it would happen in my lifetime," said board member Leslie Osterweil.

Tampa's elite toast the new Museum of Art 02/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 10:05am]
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