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Gehry-Designed Art Museum Asks Biloxi for Financial Support to Keep Doors Open

By Rhonda Miller | Published 27 Sep 2011 10:47pm | comments
The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi is designed by Frank Gehry.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi is nearly out of money and asking the city for financial support. The museum is meant to attract tourists from around the world, but as MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, first it has to win over some local taxpayers.

The dramatic entrance to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art has soaring ceilings and a wall of glass which overlooks the Mississippi Sound.  

"One of the things that’s striking when you drive by is the character that it shows. It’s a unique character that you don’t see," said James Peel of Gautier, who's visiting the museum for the first time. "And it adds something to the general architecture of the Gulf Coast."

The design by architect Frank Gehry has a swirling brick circular staircase and stainless steel pods that some people describe as space ships, or even worse, tin cans.  The museum houses the work of Biloxi potter George Ohr, who also broke traditional rules of art.

Now the museum is asking Biloxi City Council to cover about $250,000 in expenses so it can keep the doors open.  City spokesman Vincent Creel says councilmen are under pressure because of the economy.

"Right now, they’re looking at constituents who are saying, 'Hey, instead of spending $250,000 a year on that museum, why don’t you pave my streets and fix the potholes on my street, provide city services instead of putting money into a museum'?"

One of the City Councilman reviewing museum finances is Bill Stallworth.  He says since the city owns the land and buildings, it may be able to cover expenses for property insurance and some of the utilities.

"The city has no desire to see the museum close down, so we are going to have to look at this in the light of togetherness ," Stallworth said.

Even though he understands the city’s financial dilemma, vice president of the museum board Chevis Swetman said it’s also important to think about the city’s future.

"I think the museum does offer a quality of life which is part of the overall part and history and context of the city of Biloxi,"  said Swetman. "I think that great museums make great cities."

Biloxi City Council is reviewing the issue and it's expected to come up for a vote next week. 

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The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi is designed by Frank Gehry.


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