The Ringling Museum of Art is looking for ways to reach out to new audiences.
That's according to Mike Urette, who just took the helm of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Foundation. He was named chairman Oct. 10 - but he's been a fan of the museum for decades.
"We've always been supporters," he said. "Even before I-75 was built, we'd take our kids and drive down 41 from Tampa to go to the Ringling Museum."
Urette still lives in Tampa. He makes his living as a builder and developer, but he's better known as one of the area's most prominent supporters of the arts.
He's the new head of the newly appointed board, but he said he and his colleagues don't envision major changes. The museum's already on the right track.
"There's no need for a new direction," he said.
But, Urette adds, there's room to improve and expand the things Ringling is already doing.
Perhaps the museum's most visible initiative will be its strengthened commitment to diversity.
Urette allows that "diversity" is a buzzword in businesses and non-profits across the country. But the Ringling's commitment to serving new audiences is something very real.
"It's something that I, as the board's leader, am championing," he said.
The board recently appointed a task force for the specific purpose of reaching segments of the local population that may not be taking advantage of the Ringling.
"The African-American community, the Hispanic community, the Asian community, any other community that we're not reaching," he said.
It's too soon to tell exactly what tacks the task force will take, he said, because it's brand new. But the Ringling is looking to expand its exhibitions and performances that could appeal to various ethnic and social populations in the area. Next year's Ringling International Arts Festival will have an Asian theme, and starting Oct. 24 the museum is bringing in a touring exhibition called "Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898." It's curated by the Brooklyn Museum and it's billed as "the first major ex
hibition in the United States to explore the private lives and interiors of Spain's New World elite from 1492 through the 19th century, focusing on the house as a principal repository of fine and decorative art."
Getting the word out to segments of the population that might be especially interested in art with an Asian or Hispanic theme can be problematic, Urette said, and that's one of the things the task force is charged with investigating. The task force could work with churches, nonprofits, social organizations or informal channels of communication.
When the word gets out, those underserved populations turn out for Ringling programs, such as the 2011 exhibition of hip-hop art titled "Beyond Bling." That exhibition did very well, both with the traditional Ringling audience and with area residents who are generally more interested in hip-hop than fine art.
"It's a matter of awareness," Urette said. "We have to identify the ways to get our message out."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.