The late 1960s was a significant period of growth for regional museums in the United States. Widespread interest in the arts and humanities signaled the dawn of a new, culturally vibrant era. Cultural assets in growing cities became important in attracting and supporting widespread economic development and improving quality of life in communities across the country.
Tampa already had a head start in the race to embrace cultural assets as economic building blocks. By the ‘60s, supporters of the arts and humanities in Tampa had been working for many decades building the foundation of what would become the Tampa Museum of Art. Early on the Tampa Arts Institute offered exhibitions and studio art classes, which grew and matured as the Tampa Bay Arts Center — and finally, in 1979, after almost 60 years, the newly chartered Tampa Museum of Art (TMA) emerged as a full-fledged regional museum.
From the start, the TMA Board of Trustees decided that building a permanent collection would be intentional and strategic. Focusing originally on antiquities was a direct offshoot of a generous bequest of classically inspired works by famed Art Deco artist and sculptor C. Paul Jennewein. Using that as a springboard, the board of the Tampa Museum of Art took on the ambitious task of building a collection that could be used to enhance learning opportunities outside the walls of a traditional school.
When the important Joseph Veach Noble Collection of ancient art and sculpture was auctioned in 1986, the Tampa Museum of Art purchased it for $1 million with the generous outpouring of financial support from community residents and museum members plus the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the state — for the benefit of residents around Tampa Bay so they would to better understand the classics, mythology and western civilization during the reign of the Greek and Roman empires. Today, TMA’s collection of classical antiquities is recognized as the most significant collection of ancient art among the ten states across the southeast United States.
TMA’s permanent collection now numbers more than 8,400 works of art spanning 2,500 years of world culture, only a fraction of which has been exhibited. But all that is about to change!
With major museum renovations underway, TMA will add 14,000 square feet of gallery space. The TMA Board is very excited about what the museum will finally be able to bring to the public.
In addition to classical art and antiquities, the museum’s collection includes important 19th century photography and 20th century works on paper, oil paintings and sculpture. The modern collection alone numbers more than 1,000 works including some of the great European Modernists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Marc Chagall, Honoré Daumier, and Edouard Manet, Mexican Modernists Diego Rivera and American Modernists such as Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer. Recent purchases of contemporary monumental sculptures reflect a new commitment to build a collection of three-dimensional works to be featured inside and outside the walls of the museum.
During the 21st century, TMA’s permanent collections have also diversified with significant gifts and purchases of paintings representing the works of African-American artists Alma Thomas and self-taught painter Purvis Young along with Latin talents such as Venezuelan artist Oswaldo Vigas, Cuban artists Maria Martinez-Canas and Mabel Poblet.
Having recently celebrated our 100th anniversary in 2020 and looking to the next 100 years, the Tampa Museum of Art continues to explore ways to better educate, research and program topics of general and specific interest across all sectors of our demographics by building, exhibiting, and housing one of our community’s most valuable assets: Art!
Michael A. Tomor is the Penny and Jeff Vinik Executive Director of the Tampa Museum of Art.