Connecting People with Art
The mission of the Morean Arts Center is to connect people with art through innovative, community-oriented art and art education and to contribute to the economic development of the region.
The story of the Morean Arts Center dates back to 1917 when Margaret Tadd and her daughter Edith Tadd Little founded the Art Club of St. Petersburg. This was inspired by the work of Edith’s father and Margaret’s husband, J. Liberty Tadd, an art educator who founded the Florida Winter Art School in 1916. After he passed away, Margaret Tadd and her daughter ran the winter school year-round. In keeping with Tadd’s legacy, they wanted to spread ideas about art education to a wider audience. Together she and Edith formed a club in 1917 with a group of artists and art lovers.
The Art Club was the first organization of its kind on Florida’s west coast. Its initial mission statement was “to aid in whatever may tend to stimulate and encourage an appreciation of art and a love of the beautiful in our city and community.” The kapok tree located near the Museum of Fine Arts today marks the original location of the Florida Winter Art School and the Art Club of St. Petersburg, along Beach Drive and second Avenue.
Children were an early focus for the Art Club, which was only natural for an organization inspired by the legacy of J. Liberty Tadd, an educator who had special focus on children’s education. Having the
superintendent of the public schools George Lynch on the Art Club’s board helped reinforce that interest. Very soon after the club was founded it began tours of its exhibitions for school children and only a few years later Lynch announced St. Petersburg would be the first Florida City to have an art department in the public-school system.
From the original 28 members in the 1920s, the club grew to 200 members. In the early 1920s people began talking about St. Petersburg as a destination for the arts with the Art Club at the center of that. In 1924, The America Magazine of Art wrote, that “St. Pete has won for itself, among other things, the
largest art center south of Atlanta and that the art club of St. Petersburg which is the real force for the extension and growth of the art phase of St. Petersburg society, has as its most important work that of educating the school children in the understanding and appreciation of art.”
For the next 55 years, the Art Club remained at the center of the arts community of St. Petersburg. It would celebrate artists and exhibit their work and provide art classes for adults and children.
In 1972, local artists formed the Arts Center Association. After a couple of years, the Art Club and the Art Center Association would merge to form the Arts Center.
The Arts Center occupied a building on 7th Street for more than 20 years during which they created a public art competition. This was the first mural competition in the city, long before the SHINE St. Petersburg Mural Festival. In 1972, the first mural was painted on the 1st avenue (North) side of the building with the award prize being $300.
The Arts Center found a new home at an old, vacant furniture store on the 700 block of Central Avenue in the early 90s. They were essentially two hotels and 3 smaller buildings on Central that made up the store. A generous gift from the Morean’s benefactor, Beth Morean, made it possible to connect all under one building and one façade. In 2005, the Arts Center was renamed the Morean Arts Center, honoring the Morean Family’s generosity which has provided the Arts Center with a solid financial footing and supported its continued success. Today it is one of St. Pete’s distinct structures with
galleries, classrooms, a digital lab, retail store and a café.
In 2010, Morean Board Members worked together to bring the Chihuly Collection to St. Petersburg.
Education is important to Dale Chihuly and he saw the Morean as a great partner that would leverage the educational value of his collection. Once again, a group of board members with the financial support of Beth Morean, stepped in and facilitated that acquisition.
In the first 5 months, the Chihuly Collection welcomed more than 250,000 visitors. This new interest in glass art prompted the opening of the Morean Glass Studio. Through daily glass demonstrations, local glass artists show visitors how glass art is made, thereby enhancing the visitor experience.
In 2016 it moved from its location on Beach Drive to its current location on Central Avenue. The new 11,000 square feet facility made for a better visitor experience and connected the guests to the Morean Arts Center and Morean Glass Studio, directly correlating to the visitor, how the proceeds from the Chihuly Collection supported the local arts community.
Morean Center for Clay
In 2009, the Morean Arts Center moved its ceramics program into an iconic building in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District. It is located in a restored freight depot that was built in 1926 and is the only substantially unaltered example of railroad architecture left in St. Petersburg. It houses 60 artists at any given time and includes a retail space, galleries, private artist studios, and a nationally-renowned artist-in-residence program. Today, the Morean Center for Clay is the largest pottery in the southeast and the 3rd largest in the country.
Throughout its history the Morean has honed into its mission to provide accessible art experiences. Years ago, the organization determined that access to art and art experiences is a fundamental right to all people regardless of identity, age, and opportunity and has strived to provide a safe and dynamic arts learning environment, to promote equal access and to ensure a welcoming and friendly atmosphere that inspires ALL visitors.
TODAY, the Morean, through its four venues, continues to be a driving force within the St. Petersburg arts community. It provides a place for creativity, innovation, and exploration.