The art of collaboration

Some of those happiest about the hugely-hyped run of the "Imperial Tombs of China" show oversee museums miles away from the exhibition’s temporary resting place at the Orlando Museum of Art.;;The exhibit, which ended Sept. 15, drew fewer people than originally expected by the museum, which conveniently lowered those expectations as the four-month run wore on. Still, the thousands who showed up made it the museum’s best draw. And its presence boosted the attendance at other museums that collaborated to feed the popularity of Chinese art heightened by the PR blitz.;;In fact, attendance tripled at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College and the Maitland Arts Center. "It was a good, synergistic example of how arts organizations can work together," said Arthur Blumenthal, director of the Cornell, which -- until the day before "Tombs" closed -- displayed "Treasures of the Chinese Nobility,"140 pieces from the collection of Winter Park collector Chauncey P. Lowe.;;While Blumenthal lacked hard figures, Gerry Shepp, executive director of the Maitland museum, reported 6,000 summer visitors to two shows timed to coincide with the "Tombs" exhibition, compared with about 2,000 last year to other exhibitions.;;"We expect to do more of these," Shepp said. "We’re always interested in doing collaborative ventures.";;For now, no future opportunities are in the works. But Shepp wants the museum directors to meet twice a year to pursue them; the Chinese collaboration was pulled together in less than a year. ;;"Most museums plan two years in advance," he said. "The area has grown. There are no free evenings." Although Maitland had been negotiating for two years to bring in "China: Exploring the Interior, 1903-1904" and "The Last Empress Dowager," it was able to shift the exhibition dates to more closely follow the "Tombs" schedule. ;;Small museums lack both capital and exhibit space to compete with the well-funded and newly expanded Orlando Museum of Art. "Even if they hadn’t (encouraged the collaboration,) other institutions would have looked at what they could to add to it, because of the publicity involved," Shepp said.;;OMA now will take a break to remodel galleries that were set up for "Tombs." But the museums caught intermittently in its shadow aren’t waiting before embarking on new partnerships.;; In March 1998, Maitland plans to display images of Shakespearean performances by Life magazine photographer Max Waldman, in a collaboration with the Orlando Shakespeare Festival. In 1999-2000, Maitland and Seminole Community College both will exhibit Japanese woodprints. And in January 1999, Cornell and the Zora Neale Hurston Festival together will display the work of contemporary African-American artists.
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