Appleton Museum aims to grow under Director Cindi Morrison
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 1:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 1:52 p.m.
When Cindi Morrison became director of the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., in 2008, annual attendance at the 20,000-square-foot museum was about 50,000.
Through a lot of hard work, Morrison brought in numerous creative art exhibitions and the attendance soared by 140 percent to 120,000 in just four years.
"That's what I was hired to do here," said Morrison, the Appleton Museum of Art's director. She was hired in November to replace John Lofgren, who retired last April to move to California to be closer to family.
The immaculate 81,000-square-foot facility on Silver Springs Boulevard showed signs of new life on Thursday, despite a recent funding scare.
The College of Central Florida, which operates the facility with mostly state funds, received news that legislators may cut $250,000 — roughly 17 percent of the Appleton's $1.5 million it gets from the state.
But numerous phone calls by CF officials helped save the special project funding secured by former state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, an Ormond Beach Republican who was forced out last year because of term limits.
The news created a discussion among the CF board of trustees members on Tuesday. They are concerned that since legislators targeted the special projects funding this year, they may make another run at slicing it next year. Trustees agreed to lobby legislators to make sure that doesn't happen.
"Without that special projects funding, exhibits and education" would suffer, Morrison said. Such cuts would be to "cut off your nose to spite your face," considering museums have substantial economic impacts on communities.
A recent economic prosperity study, which shows museums in Central Florida — from Orlando to Gainesville, including the Appleton — generate $199.9 million in salaries alone.
Morrison said she was drawn to the Appleton, impressed with its reputation and its collection, which is among the best in the country — especially for a community the size of Ocala.
The Appleton Museum of Art was founded in 1982, a gift from Arthur I. Appleton. After the city of Ocala donated the 44-acre site for the museum, construction began in 1984.
It opened three years later and now boasts 16,000 artifacts, including European, American, Asian, African, contemporary and pre-Columbian art. It also features a series of temporary traveling exhibitions.
In 2001, the Appleton featured artwork of Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, creating a national buzz that helped further cement the Appleton as a world-class museum.
Morrison said attendance is growing, up 5 percent in the first three months of this year when compared with the same period in 2012.
She credits the rise to several significant exhibits, including "New World Treasures: Artifacts from Hernando De Soto's Florida Expedition" and "Rebels With a Cause: American Impressionist Women from the Huntsville Museum of Art."
And she is planning to bring some unique exhibits in the next two years in hopes of generating higher attendance.
The hopes to host more national juried art competitions at the Appleton, which not only brings people to the museum from all over the United States to see displayed artwork but puts the Appleton more on the art map.
Morrison is also negotiating with world renown outdoor sculptor Patrick Dougherty, who uses vines, tree limbs and native saplings to create large outdoor pieces.
Dougherty, from Chapel Hill, N.C., has built more than 200 sculptures all over the world. In fact, Morrison secured him at the Mulvane four years ago and attendance soared.
She noted his work draws people who want to see the sculptor create his outdoor masterpiece — such as a teapot and three tea cups, for instance — in three weeks from scratch. She said the sculptures last a couple years before they degrade.
Morrison is also planning an "Art of the Robot" exhibit, which will include many works of national artists she knows from around the country. She hopes to get renown Lego sculptor Nathan Sawaya's "Art of the Brick" exhibition in 2015. Morrison's vision is to bring different types of exhibitions to the Appleton, ones that draw on the interests of many different people.
While Morrison shared her vision, workers downstairs were in the beginning stages of remodeling the entrance foyer.
The museum once featured Marion County's only escalators, which have been in decline for years. They have been removed and are being replaced by a pair of marble staircases, a move to save money on the electric bills and rising maintenance costs.
Appleton spokesman Steve Specht said the 25-year-old escalators, which had a history of maintenance issues, were removed to save money. Disabled visitors will still have access to the second floor of the 81,000-square-foot museum via an existing elevator.
Besides the $250,000 that was nearly cut, the state Legislature ponies up nearly another $1.3 million. The total budget for the museum is $1.9 million.
Nearly a decade ago, Florida State University — which had partnered with CF in the operation of the museum since 1990 — pulled its $1 million funding.
Lawmakers agreed to cover the shortfall, provided CF's administrators and foundation let FSU out of its commitment. CF then worked out a deal to take over the facility.
Contact Joe Callahan at 867-4113 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at JoeOcalaNews.