With its soft opening today, a spectacular new museum featuring hundreds of works of Western and wildlife art joins the art scene in downtown St. Petersburg. The museum is a gem all in itself, but it also is part of a symbiosis whose benefits ripple throughout the community.
The museum is a privately funded venture by Tom James, former chairman of Raymond James Financial, and his wife, Mary. They pledged $75 million to the project which sits at 150 Central Ave. in a former office building that covers the whole block. Raymond James, of course, is a major employer and perhaps the region’s most visible corporate citizen. The museum is no small gift back to the community that was an incubator for the financial firm before it became a global brand.
As previewed by Times arts correspondent Lennie Bennett, the James Museum spares no detail. The expansive collection seeks to portray the nuanced and evolving narrative of Western culture, including the Native American experience. The interior design is a collaboration by Wannemacher Jensen Architects of St. Petersburg and world-renowned architect Yann Weymouth, who used earth tones and sandstone to create an experience that evokes the cliffs and dry creeks of the West. There is a gallery featuring Mary James’ Southwestern jewelry collection, rooms of wildlife art, a special exhibitions gallery for rotating collections and a 129-seat auditorium, as well as a restaurant, day spa and pilates studio.
It joins some very good company. The Dalí Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Chihuly Collection have all raised St. Petersburg’s profile as an arts destination, and the under-construction Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement is next on the scene.
Put it all together and the picture that emerges is of a thriving cultural scene, fueled by private investment, that makes St. Petersburg a better place to live and a fertile ground for business.