TAMPA — Todd Smith, whose nearly six-year tenure as executive director of the Tampa Museum of Art saw exhibits including Degas and Matisse, is leaving to head the Orange County Museum of Art in California.
Orange County hired Smith as its chief executive officer after an eight-month search, the museum announced Wednesday.
"He was the perfect candidate," said spokeswoman Kirsten Schmidt.
July 3 is Smith's last day at the Tampa museum. He starts at the Orange County museum Aug. 4.
"These transitions are always tough decisions," said Smith, who oversaw the rise and operation of a new 66,000-square-foot museum on the Hillsborough River after arriving in 2008.
Smith, 48, views his biggest accomplishments in Tampa as bringing world-class exhibits to the city and making the museum more accessible to the public, offering such deals as opening the museum on Friday nights for whatever visitors want to pay.
"We've done quite a lot in the last six years," he said.
He said the museum is financially sound and exhibitions have been planned out for several years. So the main challenge the Tampa board of directors and new leader face is "figuring out what they want to focus on in terms of growth of the museum."
The Tampa museum has a prestigious collection of antiquities, but little else in its permanent holdings — which often makes organizing temporary ones, popular with the public, challenging.
Smith forged an exhibition schedule that embraced special shows on the art of our time and movements that led up to it. He balanced avant-garde ones based on media such as video with those featuring beloved earlier masters, such as Degas and Matisse.
He has had a banner season recently. The museum has organized three exhibitions, back-to-back, with scholarly catalogs.
The first was a retrospective of Graphicstudio, the respected atelier at University of South Florida that recently ended.
"My Generation: Young Chinese Artists" opens June 7 and is a first both as a survey of the new generation of Chinese artists and as one in which another local museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, shares.
Opening June 14 is an exhibition featuring the museum's antiquities collection with loans from other museums.
Given the museum's size and resources, it's a remarkable achievement to do such ambitious exhibitions so close together.
According to records the non-profit Tampa museum filed with the IRS for 2012, Smith was paid $189,000 a year.
Curator Seth Pevnick will take over as acting director while the museum searches for a successor, Smith said.
He was lured to the Orange County museum partly because it is about to undertake a big move — from Newport Beach to Costa Mesa — and he said he likes the challenge of that.
"It's sort of time for a new big project for me," Smith said.
Smith also was attracted to the museum's focus on early contemporary California art and its international exhibits that explore the art of the Pacific Rim, he said.
Craig Wells, president of the Orange County museum board, said the search there was for a director who was adept at running the art side and business side of the museum, someone with experience in contemporary and modern art, someone who could run a lean, productive staff and stay on budget.
A plus would be someone who had overseen a huge move.
"As we went from dozens down to the last 10, down to the last four, down to Todd, he met almost all of those checkpoints in superlative fashion," Wells said.
He would not comment on what Smith's salary would be there. The Orange County museum's 2012 tax returns show that the previous CEO earned $300,771 in 2012, plus an additional $10,582 in compensation "from the organization and related organizations," according to the Orange County Register.
Before being hired in Tampa, Smith ran the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C., and has overseen museums in Knoxville, Tenn., and Fargo, N.D., and was a curator at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, N.C.; the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio; and the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.
Times art critic Lennie Bennett and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.