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Dedication of gallery celebrates art patrons

Friends called them "Mr. and Mrs. Arts."

Arnold and Louise Kotler devoted more than 50 years to nurturing visual and performing arts in the bay area.

Today their legacy lives on at the John F. Germany Public Library, with the dedication of an art gallery in their names. The gallery _ spread across the back of the arts and letters department on the mezzanine _ is believed to be the oldest continuing art gallery in downtown Tampa.

Friends of the Library of Tampa-Hillsborough County held a reception on Sunday to mark the naming of the Kotler Art Gallery. About 50 friends and relatives of the couple attended.

"The Kotlers were part of a small group of people who kept the arts alive when Tampa was pretty much a cultural desert," said John F. Germany, the library's namesake.

In the 1970s, Arnold Kotler hired a consultant to look at creating a first-class concert hall. That effort led to the construction of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

"They never sought the spotlight," said their daughter, Nancy Kotler Brereton of Davis Islands. "They preferred to work behind the curtain."

Kotler, a Tampa native, married Yale University graduate Louise Lichtman in 1946.

She was a founding member of the Tampa Museum of Art and the Hillsborough County Public Arts Committee. She served on the Florida Arts Council and in 1986 the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce named her "Cultural Contributor of the Year."

She was an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida's theater department from 1976 to 1983. She also was a charter member and past president of Town and Gown, which fosters cooperation between the university and the city.

She died in 1997.

Arnold Kotler was co-owner of Tropical Garment Manufacturer, which made men's slacks and walking shorts. He served as chairman of the USF Foundation, which raises money for the university, and was a member of the President's Circle and Graphicstudio, USF's art research institute.

He died in 1999 at age 80.

An endowed lecture series at the USF College of Visual and Performing Arts bears the couple's names.

The Kotler Art Gallery will rotate exhibitions monthly, beginning with this month's etchings in metal by David Larson Evans. Displays will focus on Florida environmental and literary themes.

Next door, at the Tampa Museum of Art, Hillsborough County's Public Art Program will install a 5-foot bronze sculpture titled Art Muse in memory of Louise Kotler. The sculpture, by artist Audrey Flack, should be done in February and will be on long-term loan to the museum.

_ Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or