Chihuly Collection of glass art opens in St Pete

07/12/10 Seán Kinane
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Downtown St. Petersburg added another art destination over the weekend with the grand opening of the Chihuly Collection presented by the Morean Arts Center. It’s the first and only permanent collection of the prolific glass artist from Seattle.

"Isn't this an incredible room? I mean these pieces, and this is one of those great testimonies to Dale. He took tremendous risks when he was developing these chandeliers."

Before the grand opening on Saturday, the project’s architect, Albert Alfonso, led a preview tour of the space he designed for Dale Chihuly’s art. In the dimly lit and bowl-shaped Chandelier Room, three of the Collection’s largest pieces hang from the high ceiling. Katee Tully is executive director of the Morean Arts Center and the Chihuly Collection.

"Oh, I just think that people came in already buzzing with anticipation about the collection, and left even more so. Everybody's just vibrating on what this means for the Morean Arts Center and all of St. Petersburg."

In the Boat Room, dozens of large glass balls of every color fill a wooden boat. The glass-filled boat can also be seen through a slit in the corridor with what’s called the Persian Ceiling. In that narrow passage, patterns of colored light are reflected onto the walls while the entire ceiling is filled with back-lit glass creations.

St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster joined the media preview tour. After the ribbon cutting ceremony, he compared the collection to a fireworks display.

"Oh, it's beautiful, beautiful. It's a great addition to the waterfront; great addition to St. Pete and a huge coup for our arts community. It'll blow you away. For anyone listening on your station, they need to come and I promise they won't be disappointed. I kind of equate it to a fireworks display. It starts with some star burst and then you kind of go through and see the magic. Then it's got this grand finale at the end of all of these pieces of art; these beautiful large pieces of art. I guarantee they'll be blown away."

Foster promises that St. Pete will fund arts, even though the city’s budget is tight.

"We're always going to be a part of assisting the arts and making sure that they thrive. We don't always have to use tax money to do that. We're going to continue to fund arts, but we also have tourists taxes which goes to support art museums and collections like this. This collection here is going to do just fine. We're huge fans of the Arts Center, and we're going to make sure that the Arts Center along with this collection thrive because it is important. It's important as an education tool for kids. It keeps our kids occupied. And the more they give back to the community, the more the community's going to give. So I see continued support for things like this."

Morean executive director Tully would not say who paid for the cost of the Chihuly Collection, but says it mostly came from private donations.

"A lot of that information is confidential. But what I can share is that Dale Chihuly and the entire Chihuly studio were enormously generous in helping us with this project, and gave us a lot more in glass than what we could have ever anticipated. And creativity in putting the glass collection together."

"And was some of that funding from the city or from the county?"

"Almost all of the funding for this collection was through private sponsorships, owners and individuals in St. Pete. And of course some of the largest organizations that have always endorsed and understood the importance of the art in St. Pete."

Beth Morean is a trustee with the Morean Arts Center.

"Quite a few years ago we realized that we needed more parking, so we started talking to people that had parking lots around us. And I found out that Jimmy Aviram owned a parking lot. I met with Jimmy, and I started talking to Jimmy about a goal of a sustainable arts center that had a source of revenue rather than the hand out all the time. And with all those things drying up, we needed a source of revenue. So Jimmy and I started talking and he said, fly out with me and meet Dale Chihuly. So we did. And we became great friends, and started talking about this collaboration and for his work to come here, to sustain the Morean arts center and bring the Chihuly Collection to St. Petersburg."

Morean thinks the collection will contribute to St. Pete becoming a "fabulous art destination."

"Well I think it's going to be great for the economy. I think it's going to bring more people here that are interested in art. We were just voted the number one arts town in midsized towns in the whole United States. Now that we have this here, I think we're going to have a wonderful loop here: the Dali; the Museum of Fine Arts; the Holocaust Museum; the Chihuly Collection; the Arts Center; the train station. We are really becoming a fabulous arts destination."

Dale Chihuly did not make it to the grand opening because of illness, but is expected to visit the collection in October. The Chihuly Collection is located at 400 Beach Drive in St. Pete.

WMNF News photos of Chihuly Collection

WMNF News videos of Chihuly Collection

Chihuly Collection presented by Morean Arts Center

Chihuly Studio

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