St. Petersburg College's role in the arts community grew last week with the announcement that the school is the new owner of the entire collection of the now-closed Gulf Coast Museum of Art.
The 425 works, including some by revered Florida artists, will remain in Pinellas County and be available for viewing from time to time, according to St. Petersburg College president Carl Kuttler.
This is both a coup and a civic rescue mission for Kuttler, who has a knack for showing up at the right place and the right time. Board members of the Gulf Coast Museum could not have hoped for a better outcome after deciding that their museum could not survive. An out-of-the-way location in Largo, a lack of marketing, a declining endowment and poor attendance combined to doom the museum only 10 years after it opened in Largo. Museum officials had been preparing to divide the collection among other museums when Kuttler stepped up.
"When I read that it would potentially be divided up, I thought, 'What a loss,' " Kuttler said.
Museum officials agreed to donate the collection of mostly contemporary art and fine crafts to the college.
It is a deal that works well for Kuttler, too. The college owns the Florida International Museum property in St. Petersburg, where it has struggled to find a long-term mission. While the college is seeking traveling exhibits to install at Florida International Museum, the collection from Gulf Coast Museum can be hung there and seen by art lovers and others who never made it to Largo. SPC hopes to have an exhibit ready to unveil there within three months.
Some of the works may also be displayed at the Leepa-Rattner Museum, a small but popular art museum on the SPC campus in Tarpon Springs, or in various other SPC locations.
The collection includes paintings by George Inness and Christopher Still, glass by Duncan McClellan and works by Florida photographer Clyde Butcher.
With hope, SPC will coordinate with the Pinellas County School District to find ways that schoolchildren may see and study the works, particularly those of Florida artists.
It would have been sad to see the 425 works scattered to the four winds, particularly because many of the pieces were obtained through local residents' donations to the Gulf Coast Museum. SPC and Kuttler can be thanked for stepping forward to prevent that outcome.