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Arts / Culture

Viniks Donate Record $5 Million To Tampa Museum Of Art Amid Uptick In Arts Funding

man and woman pose for photo
Vinik Family Foundation
Jeff and Penny Vinik’s foundation has a long history of supporting the Tampa Museum of Art, including bringing in two of its most high-profile exhibits in the past few years. VINIK FAMILY FOUNDATION";

Tampa Bay Lightning hockey owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, have donated $5 million to the Tampa Museum of Art, earmarked to fund the salary of its executive director.

The gift from the Vinik Family Foundation to the museum’s endowment is the largest ever for the institution, which houses its collection in a modern building in downtown Tampa on the city’s Riverwalk.

Interest from the endowment will be used to pay the annual salary of Michael Tomor,  who joined the museum as its executive director in 2015.

“We’ve been so excited and inspired by Dr. Michael Tomor’s leadership and vision for the future, in particular his passion for securing the viability of the museum for generations to come,” Penny Vinik said in a news release. “We want to ensure the stability and financial security of his position.”

The record gift comes amid an upswing in arts funding over the past 18 months in Florida, including some other sizable donations in the Tampa Bay region.

In December 2018, philanthropists Nancy and David Bilheimer donated $2 million to the Dunedin Fine Art Center, which renamed its west wing in their honor. It is the largest donation in that center’s 44-year history.

In June 2018, the daughter of a Polish woman who survived the Holocaust and later became an artist donated her mother’s collection of 542 paintings, drawings and other materials to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. 

Public spending on art increased this year, as well, with Gov. Ron DeSantis signing a budget that included more than $21 million for cultural and museum grants, an almost eight-fold increase from the previous year.  Under his predecessor, now-U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, arts funding from the state was slashed dramatically, to as low as $2.65 million in 2018. Arts funding previous to Scott’s cuts was typically as much as $43 million.

That increase, however, was still well below the levels sought by the Florida Cultural Alliance, which said arts spending should be more like $61 million. The Alliance ended up reducing its request to about $43 million before finally receiving half of that.

The Vinik Family Foundation, founded in 1997, has donated more than $100 million to organizations in education, human services, health care and the arts. The foundation especially supports immersive, interactive arts projects.

Last fall, for instance, the foundation loaned the museum work of art from Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama called Infinity Room LOVE IS CALLING. The art was extremely popular as patrons wandered in a mirrored room filled with colorful, polka-dotted soft-rubber tentacles snaking from the floor and hanging from the ceilings. 

The foundation also presented The Beach Tampa in August 2016. The 10,000-square-foot installation by Snarkitecture transformed Amalie Arena into a giant white beach with an “ocean” of 1.2 million recyclable white balls. 

Since moving to Tampa in 2012 after Jeff Vinik purchase the Lightning hockey team, the Viniks have left a huge footprint on downtown Tampa and the arts community. Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners is also spending $3 billion to redevelop the area around the downtown hockey arena and Channelside Drive, now known as the Water Street project