Amanda Cooper Looks Back on 25 Years at the Morean Arts Center
There are two names that are intricately linked in St. Petersburg: Amanda Cooper and the Morean Arts Center. A familiar face about town, Cooper has worked tirelessly with the local arts community and is the chief curator for the center, with the daunting task of programming the gallery spaces at the Morean and Chihuly Collection. As part of the Morean’s exhibition team, she helps organize over 50 exhibitions each year across three different locations.
Cooper is also preparing to celebrate her 25th anniversary at the Morean this February.
The first incarnation of her job was as the gallery director for the then-named Arts Center. She was hired at the age of 24 in 1999, having newly graduated from the University of Florida with her bachelor’s in art history. “I sent my resume (such as it was back then!) to all the galleries in town. I scored an interview for the gallery director position and here I (still) am!”
At the time of Cooper’s hiring, the Arts Center had just moved from its Seventh Street location to Central Avenue. There, multiple properties were purchased and rebuilt to form the center as it exists today. She started her new job during these renovations.
“The entire façade was ripped off,” she remembers. “The construction crew literally tore down and rebuilt our office space while we were working inside of it. It was a crazy and amazing time to be on staff, and I’m so glad I was there for it.”
Both she and the building established themselves as permanent fixtures after that. “I’ve made lifelong friends here,” she says. “For over 100 years, the Morean has been an incredibly special place and holds an important space in our community. The fact that I get to be a small part of that is just amazing, and I never take it for granted.”
Cooper recalls many special moments and friendships she’s shared over the years:
“There was that time that Lara Shelton and I got in trouble for giggling too much during a board meeting. I had to endure Jonathan Harrison’s daily (sometimes twice daily) fart jokes in the office. The late, great Rob Giordano, during his time here, would do spot-on impressions of ‘passing people we know in the hallway.’ Beth Reynolds, Scott Kirkhuff, and I spent hours discussing the ‘bad art’ coffee table book we were compiling and going to publish one day. I even learned that Betsy Lester, who hangs many of our shows here, can eat raw broccoli and install art at the same time. I also loved working with Mich Sullivan to select submissions of amazing and hilarious student art for our Word + Image program; some of them have stayed in my head for decades.”
Having seen so much in her decades-long career at the Morean, Cooper encourages artists to embark upon their dreams.
“I feel like right now is a great time to pursue art as a career, especially in the Tampa Bay area,” she says. “There are so many museums, arts centers, and galleries around us. It used to be difficult to get your foot in the door but there are more opportunities than ever right now. And on the artist side, more galleries and museums mean more spaces to show your work.”
During the holiday months of November and December, the Morean Arts Center is featuring All is Bright, an annual member’s show featuring hundreds of works from local artists. Also on view is Remember When, a solo exhibition of Tampa artist Alex Torres’s dreamy landscapes, and the artworks of the Tampa Bay Surface Design Guild.
The Chihuly Collection is hosting MADE HERE 2, which features works by Morean Glass studio artists, while the Morean Center for Clay’s show, Alteration Station, is a national juried mug exhibition with entries from across the country. There is also a solo show of Lindsey Oesterritter’s handmade functional ceramics.
Cooper encourages the public to attend these events, especially if you’re looking for special gifts. “When you buy art, you’re supporting small businesses, both the gallery and the artist. Living with handmade objects brings so much joy to the user/viewer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, either. We have items in our gallery store as low as $10.”
Few gifts are more personal or unique, Cooper notes, than original art. “When you purchase something for someone else, try to find out about the artist; I think that info really enhances the gift,” she explains. “Every work of art I own has a story behind it, and that includes who the artist is.”
Nervous about gifting art? You can also give the gift of membership.
“Become a member!” Cooper urges. “Membership has so many benefits, including discounts in our store and on classes, and free admission to the Chihuly Collection and our glass-blowing demonstrations. If you’re an artist, your membership guarantees your space in our semi-annual members’ exhibitions.”
Or, says Cooper, you can always give the gift of time, visiting the centers with friends and family or bringing them to one of the many free events hosted onsite. “Just come see us,” says Cooper. “We have so much to offer!”
To learn more about events, classes, workshops, and memberships at the Morean Arts Center, visit moreanartscenter.org.