TARPON SPRINGS — The Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art has named a new director to replace the museum's founding director, Lynn Whitelaw.
Victoria Cooke, former assistant director for curatorial affairs at the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, will start Feb. 9.
Whitelaw, 62, who is also the museum's chief curator, isn't leaving. He's staying on as the museum's first full-time curator.
Cooke, who has a broad background in museum management, accreditation and fundraising, said she's looking forward to exploring innovative ways to engage the community.
This position, she said, is a great opportunity to work "at a museum that is still new and young and finding its way."
The museum, which is part of St. Petersburg College, opened on SPC's Tarpon campus in 2002.
Cooke, who has also served as curator of painting at the New Orleans Museum of Art, acknowledged that many museums have struggled over the past few years. She said they're learning to be more inventive when it comes to marketing, using social networks like Facebook and other online vehicles like YouTube.
"We're having to be fluid and react to changes in society about what constitutes a community," said Cooke, 45.
Generally, Whitelaw said, Leepa-Rattner has been able to weather the economic storm because of its strong partnership with the college. There has also been community support, he said.
"Our attendance has been on the rise every year," Whitelaw said. "Last year, it surpassed 41,000 people."
Whitelaw, who has been responsible for many fundraising and development duties, will now have more time to concentrate on organizing the museum's holdings and working on a national traveling exhibition.
"I'm excited to work with the collection and nurture it in ways it was difficult to do as the director," Whitelaw said.
The museum was built to house a large collection of works by Abraham Rattner, a 20th century artist. It also includes works by Allen Leepa, Rattner's stepson who donated most of the collection, and by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Auguste Herbin, Georges Rouault, Hans Hofmann and Max Ernst.
Whitelaw, who entered the state's deferred retirement program, said he wanted to stay for a while to work with the new director.
He has seen other museums falter because baby boomers are retiring, and they don't have proper transition plans in place to support new leaders.
"I love this museum, and I really want to see this museum continue to go forward," Whitelaw said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.