St. Petersburg's oldest arts organization, the Morean Arts Center, has selected its new executive director.
Michael Killoren comes from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., which President Donald Trump's budget proposes to eliminate.
Killoren, 60, has worked at the NEA since 2010 as the head of Local Arts Agencies and Challenge America, programs that support arts and culture at the local level. Before that, he was the head of Seattle's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, where he led an initiative to restore arts education in public schools. In 2001, he was tapped to serve as Seattle's first director of cultural tourism.
In a telephone interview from his Washington office, he said he was thrilled for the opportunity "to come full circle" on a career that started as an art lover growing up in St. Louis.
"I am drawn to the Morean's mission to connect people with the arts," Killoren said. "I'm really honored to have the opportunity to bring all I've learned to work here. And I'm energized by the cultural vibrancy of St. Petersburg."
"He's bringing a lot to the table," said Barbara Sansone who chaired the Morean search committee. "We feel really fortunate that he has the experience he's had in the government and corporate level."
The Morean Arts Center began in 1917 as the Art Club, a small group of local artists, and has evolved into a cultural center that serves several thousand adults and children in on- and off-site classes and programs. It owns the Center for Clay, which houses its ceramics classrooms, studios and a gallery in a historic train station. The Morean Arts Center Glass Studio and Hotshop has glass-blowing demonstrations and classes. Across the street on Central Avenue, profits from the Chihuly Collection help fund the Morean's community programming. The Chihuly Collection is the only such privately held collection dedicated to works by the world-famous glass artist Dale Chihuly
Arts center attendance has grown from 3,800 in 1997 to more than 130,000 last year, and its budget has ballooned from $200,000 to more than $3.6 million, said Ciara Sibbick, the Morean's marketing manager.
Evelyn Craft Belger resigned in 2009 as Morean's director to take over the Belger Art Center in Kansas City, Mo. Her successor, Katee Tully, drew complaints about her management style and generated controversy when the membership program and show were discontinued. Tully left in December of 2011, and interim director Wayne Atherholt reinstituted both.
Then in October 2014, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman fired city arts director Elizabeth Brincklow and hired Atherholt as the city's director of cultural affairs. The Morean conducted a national search for a new executive director.
Killoren laughed when reminded that St. Petersburg had a Chihuly collection before the artist's hometown of Seattle did. Killoren has met the artist and called him "a towering figure" in the art world.
"We will forever be tied to the Chihuly group and he's going to be invaluable in continuing those positive relationships in Seattle," Sansone said.
So should the board thank Trump's proposed budget for Killoren? Killoren says no, he was already aware of St. Petersburg as an arts destination. But he said he does think the Morean has to play a part in advocating for the arts.
"Advocacy sometimes is misunderstood as lobbying, but I think it's really education," Killoren said. "I don't accept that it has to be an either/or proposition."