Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ask the Locals: Todd Smith, Tampa Museum of Art executive director

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 2:06 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HEIDI KURPIELA
  • Photo by Heidi Kurpiela

Todd Smith is executive director of the Tampa Museum of Art. He was hired in 2008 just as the museum was breaking ground on a $32.5-million building on the bank of the Hillsborough River. At the time of his arrival, the 35-year-old museum was without a permanent executive director, vexed with growing pains, and beleaguered by years of administrative turmoil.
Smith, the former executive director of the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C., brought stability, warmth and progressive programming to the institution. Under his leadership, the Museum has launched unprecedented collaborations with St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts and the University of South Florida, as well as scored major exhibitions of work by Degas, Matisse and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
At 66,000 square feet, the new museum — an electronic jewel box atop a glass pedestal — is now on the national map thanks to an American Architecture Award, multiple shout-outs in USA Today and Smith’s inclusive approach to museum management.
“If I ever left Tampa Bay the thing I’d miss most would be the [LED] lights on the building,” Smith says. “They’re just magical, and they’ve changed the way people see art and architecture in the city.”

Favorite place to root for a hat trick: Tampa Bay Lightning games. “It’s truly one of the best sports experiences in town because it’s entertaining. They’ve done a great job of making it as much about the sport as it is about the fun. I used to live in North Dakota, so I love things that are cold and on ice. It’s not something a tourist would think to do when they come to Florida.”

Favorite reading nook: The Oxford Exchange Bookstore. “Most of the time when I’m reading I use my iPad for convenience’s sake. When I want to actually feel and handle a book I go to the Oxford Exchange. What they do there is pretty remarkable as far as curating goes. You really make connections with the books on the shelves.”

Favorite date night restaurant: Bianchi's Enoteca. “It’s a very small, intimate place. They’ve got some of the best wine in town … good champagne, great pasta. It’s very understated and simple. They focus on importing good ingredients and great wine.”

Favorite place to find a cool magazine: The Museum Store at Tampa Museum of Art. “It has the best magazine selection in the region as far as I’m concerned. We scour [the market] for great magazines around the world. We were one of the first ones to carry Monocle magazine. Right now I’m loving Smith Journal out of Australia. We change the selection every quarter so it’s always something different.”

Favorite place to put life into perspective: Gazing out the window of Sono Café. “It’s the best view in town. You can sit outside on a nice day with a nice breeze and look at the [University of Tampa] minarets across the river and remind yourself why life matters and just … relax and enjoy the good things in life.”

Favorite doggie daycare: Fuzzy Buddies Pet Resort in Tampa. “They take good care of my corgi. They give daily report cards and she always gets an A. Ha! I don’t think she knows how good she’s got it.”

Favorite Tampa event: Pride & Passion. “It’s our big kickoff to gay pride month. This year’s event is May 17. It’s just a big fun party to raise money for the museum. We get about 800 people a year. It’s a good way to experience the museum, see the art and come together to celebrate diversity and all the wonderful things that go along with that.”

Favorite lowbrow hideout: Buffalo Wild Wings. “I love Buffalo Wild Wings, which is very scary. I used to go to the one in Brandon. It’s a total escape. I find it easy to relax there.”

Favorite place (other than his own museum) to take in modern art: USF Contemporary Art Museum. “I would say it’s the place I go to be challenged. I think what they do is really top-notch. They’re always asking people to think and push themselves.”

Favorite place to watch an indie: Burns Court Cinema in Sarasota. “I often go to Sarasota because they tend to get movies a little bit faster than the Tampa Theatre. It’s a pleasant drive down and there are so many nice places to grab a bite to eat.”

Favorite place to cavort with Tampa’s art circle: The bar at Mise en Place. “It feels like home to me. When I visited Tampa 15 years ago, we had dinner at Mise en Place. When I moved to Tampa I had an event there and it brought back all these good memories. A lot of museum people hang out there. I walk through the front door and they make me Hendrick’s and tonic without even lifting their head up from the bar.”

Favorite place to impress visitors: The Tampa Riverwalk. “You see the city from a different perspective. You see the unique quality of downtown Tampa. You can almost envision further development as you walk north along the river. It’s been interesting to watch the city finally treat the river like a benefit and not a liability.”

Favorite stretch of old Florida highway: North Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. “Driving between the Ringling Museum and downtown Sarasota you get a sense of what ’50s Florida might have felt like when your grandparents came down to stay in one of those roadside motels. I can easily envision some great Netflix series being filmed there.”

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