First open to the public in the Spring of 1965, the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St. Petersburg houses art collections and exhibits that span from antiquity to the present century. The museum’s personal collection is one of 20,000 works of art, including possibly the largest collection of photographic works in the Southeast. Artists whose work is on display range from Georgia O’Keefe to Claude Monet, with a beautiful sculpture garden and a collection of art from the ancient world that includes Greek sculptures and pottery. You can take docent-led tours through the galleries to get a better idea of what goes on inside the museum and some more history behind the artwork, or the museum offers programs designed for either adults or families, including an event called Cocktails & Collections held every third Thursday of the month.
The museum was founded by Margaret Acheson Stuart, but the museum didn’t open to the public until the later years of her life, only 15 years before her death in 1980. Mrs. Stuart wanted to keep the viewing of collections to an intimate scale so as to be welcoming to the public, with small galleries, as well as gardens, throughout the museum space. It was the first art museum to open its doors in St. Petersburg, with Mrs. Stuart wanting to share her love of art in an effort to bring the community together. By 1989 the gallery rooms had doubled to twenty and a second floor was added that housed a classroom and a library. Again, in 2006, the museum was doubled in size when a new wing was constructed, the Hazel Hough wing, designated mainly to the museum’s special exhibitions.
Sitting on a four-acre plot on the waterfront of Tampa Bay, the Museum has spaces that the public is able to rent for weddings, corporate parties, or other such events. The money revenue from these rentals is put right back into improving the museum galleries, education, and research. The Mary Alice McClendon Conservatory serves as a community space for many of their events and programs, housing the MFA Café and the Museum Gift Store, which has been named the best in the area by duPont Registry of Tampa Bay. The store has art for sale by many local artists, as well as international, which includes prints, jewelry, photographs, and paintings.
The Museum is supported in part by the non-profit organization, the Margaret Acheson Stuart Society, or simply the Stuart Society, started by the woman herself in coordination with other ladies in St. Petersburg at the time. The Society holds multiple fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for the Museum, and since its foundation in 1962, only three years before the opening of the museum, the society has raised a total of $5 million to fund various exhibits, restorations, education programs, etc. The art museum holds and annual ‘Art in Bloom’ event which is a floral exhibition and was started by the Stuart Society more than 20 years ago, as well as hosting an annual fashion show called ‘Smartly Dressed’ for over 40 years.