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Worth a thousand words

Downtown Tampa has long been considered the city’s cultural hub. Home to the Tampa Theatre, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Tampa Museum and many other renowned artistic establishments, the area is now host to the new location of the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMOPA).

Established in 2001, this non-profit organization aims to celebrate photographic art for its aesthetic qualities as well as its ability to educate the community. In addition to its community outreach programs, which include lectures on various aspects of photographic art, the museum collects and displays pieces from artists worldwide.

“We want to deal with the history of photography and the most avant-garde part of it, too,” said JoAnne Milani, the museum’s executive director. “So we’re looking at it from both ends – the past and the future.”

Determined to demonstrate how photographic art relates to modern life, FMOPA is essentially a venue to foster the community’s knowledge and appreciation for this art form.

“We give artists a chance to exhibit and learn at our annual members’ exhibitions,” said Charles J. Levin, co-founder of FMOPA and chairman of its board of directors. “We necessarily provoke a dialogue about art and culture as related to our contemporary lives.”

Although the museum had achieved respectable success in its previous location in Old Hyde Park Village, Levin and the rest of the board felt FMOPA needed to relocate to truly achieve its goals.

“FMOPA wants to be part of an area made up of other arts-related venues,” he said. “We wanted a busy downtown corner for exposure as we have limited advertising dollars.”

More than 300 people showed their support at the museum’s grand opening celebration on Sept. 15 to commemorate its relocation. This gathering also served as the opening reception of FMOPA’s latest exhibit, which celebrates the work of legendary photographer Aaron Siskind.

Considered to be one of the masters of American photographic art, Siskind is recognized for his post-1940 work, in which he modeled his style after abstract expressionist painters.

However, FMOPA’s current show, titled Aaron Siskind: The Harlem Document (1932-1940), focuses on his earlier photographs.

“Sometimes with artists, it’s interesting to follow the train of development, how they arrived at their signature work,” Milani said.

Running through Nov. 5, this exhibit serves as both historical and social commentary, providing valuable insight into life in Harlem during the Depression. According to Levin and Milani, it is precisely this significance that makes photography such a unique art.

“We chose photography as the basis for a museum because of its great relevance and accessibility,” said Levin.

The museum’s next exhibit, debuting Nov. 10, is a collaboration with USF’s Graphicstudio titled Technology Into Art: The Photogravure (From 1850 to Today). FMOPA’s exhibits are always free; however, there is a $2 suggested donation.

Although FMOPA just settled into its new home, it continues to look to the future. The museum plans to remain at its location for at least two years before acquiring a larger, permanent home elsewhere in downtown Tampa. In addition, long-term goals include the creation of an archive to preserve this art form.

“Photography is an evolving medium, and sometimes it’s hard to know how to take care of them,” said Milani, who served as a theater and art critic for the Tampa Tribune for 14 years before coming to work for FMOPA.

Levin, who graduated from USF in 1964, believes the experience the museum offers is an invaluable inspiration for the community, especially students.

“We are a part of the fabric of experiences that college students learn from and build upon,” he said. “We are an example of how a few people can make a difference in our community.”

For more information on the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, visit FMOPA.org.

Florida Museum of Photographc Art200 N. Tampa Street, Suite 120Tampa, Florida 33602813.221.2222