TAMPA — University Mall has more than 100 stores offering everything from clothes to electronics to jewelry.
Now it also has a place offering multimedia insight into Michelangelo's iconic statue David, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and many of da Vinci's ingenious inventions.
The "Da Vinci & Michelangelo: Titans Experience" exhibit opened at the mall with fanfare Feb. 24 and will run through May.
Occupying a 13,500-square-foot space that formerly fielded several retailers, including Old Navy and B. Dalton Bookseller, organizers expect the exhibit to draw thousands of guests over the coming months.
But what do Michelangelo, da Vinci, and University Mall all have in common? According to Tampa Innovation Alliance executive director Mark Sharpe, who's hoping to revive the 42-year-old mall, the common thread can be described in one word: renaissance.
"That's what an innovation district is," Sharpe said. "It's a capstone of what will be the renaissance of the whole area.
"What we're trying to do is inspire young people to change the world. Who better to inspire us to create than Michelangelo and da Vinci?"
University Mall sits right in the heart of the North Tampa neighborhood that former County Commissioner Sharpe and partners of the Tampa Innovation Alliance hope to see reborn with new development, new opportunity and new ideas, just as Michelangelo and da Vinci's 14th and 15th century Italy experienced during the Renaissance period.
Both men created hundreds of works, many of which were ahead of the time. For example, da Vinci drew detailed sketches of a kitelike glider flying machine some 300 years before brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright took flight in North Carolina. A glider built from da Vinci's schematic designs is just one of the dozens of pieces found at the exhibit.
It also features films, three-dimensional animations, and live presentations that help tell the story of the two renaissance-era geniuses and their creations.
Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture & the Arts executive director Susana Weymouth says bringing the exhibit to University Mall can help raise the visibility of both interests.
"Business is good for the arts, and art is good for business," she says.
Weymouth's organization hosts events that help raise funds for the local art community and also provides scholarships for students who seek degrees in a variety of artistic programs.
"I think what Mark (Sharpe) and the Tampa Innovation Alliance are doing is very important," Weymouth said. "Arts and culture are important economic contributors."
Curator Mark Rodgers has overseen the exhibit as it moved from the permanent museum of Leonardo da Vinci in Florence, Italy, to Denver and then to Tampa.
The showcase evolved in scope since coming to the United States, first highlighting only da Vinci's art and inventions, and later incorporating some of Michelangelo's works.
"I realized you can't talk about da Vinci without Michelangelo," Rodgers said. "Many people don't know that they were not only contemporaries but also fierce competitors.
"There has never been an exhibit or museum, that I am aware, that has ever compared or contrasted Da Vinci and Michelangelo in the same presentation."
Rodgers says that he and his colleagues were looking for just the right venue to host the exhibit and its multimedia components.
"This is one of our most beautiful setups," Rodgers said. "University Mall is a perfect fit for our museum-theatre concept."
Contact Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez at [email protected]