Visitors flock to Florida year-round for its sugary white, powdery sand; the art deco of South Beach; out-of-this-world Cuban food; and, of course, Disney’s Magic Kingdom. But four new museum projects designed by star architect and international museum expert Yann Weymouth are giving us four more reasons to head to the Sunshine State -- and reminding us that Florida is for art lovers too.

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The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
WHERE: Sarasota
THE GOAL: Expansion and Refurbishment
STATUS: Finished, opened February 2007
5401 Bay Shore Road
Seven days a week:
10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Adults: $19
Seniors: $16
Students, children, teachers,
active U.S. military: $6
Children under six: free

The legacy of circus king and entrepreneur John Ringling, this museum has long been considered the official State Art Museum of Florida. Consisting of more than 13,000 objects collected over years of traveling, the museum has drawn art fans for decades to its romantic 1930s villa-like estate that sits on 66 lavish acres on Sarasota Bay. But it was time for a facelift. Enter renowned architect Yann Weymouth, of Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, one of the world’s largest architecture firms, and his team of structural dreamers. Under their tutelage -- and for a mere $43 million and the addition of the contemporary Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing -- the complex was reborn. Sensitive to Ringling’s spirit and careful to retain the allure of a bygone era externally, they transformed the interiors, adding 30,000 square feet of minimalist galleries. Now, pristine interiors in 21 galleries provide an ideal backdrop for astonishing works, some of which had been relegated to storage in damp basements and condemned buildings over the years. Paintings by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Nicolas Poussin, Diego Velázquez, and Peter Paul Rubens are just some of the highlights of the Asian, European, and American collections, while the beloved Circus Museum treats visitors to such sights as the world’s largest miniature circus, antique costumes, wagons, and other artifacts that chronicle the history of the circus. Also renewed are the Mable Ringling rose gardens and grounds.

The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg
WHERE: St. Petersburg
THE GOAL: Expansion
STATUS: Finished, opened March 2008
255 Beach Drive Northeast
Tuesday through Saturday:
10 a.m. to five p.m.
Sunday: one p.m. to five p.m.
Closed Monday
Adults: $12
Seniors: $10
Children, students: $6
Children under seven: free

There was only one problem with the Mediterranean- style Museum of Fine Arts, founded in 1965 by Margaret Acheson Stuart: It wasn’t big enough. For years, this elegant museum could display only 10 percent of its extensive collection, which is a shame, considering that it includes such masterpieces as Claude Monet’s The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog) and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Poppy, not to mention an enthralling assemblage of Greek, Roman, and pre-Columbian antiquities. Weymouth and crew came to the rescue in this instance by creating an addition that melds the past with the present and age-old sophistication with futuristic beauty. The resulting Hazel Hough Wing, fashioned to mimic the original villa, adds 39,000 square feet (doubling the museum’s footprint), ensuring there’s enough space to display every work in the museum’s collection. In connecting the two portions of the structure, Weymouth employed a touch of the contemporary: a two-story glass conservatory that serves as an indoor town square meant to be filled with lingering people. Light-filled, it faces the waterfront and brings the museum into the twenty-first century architecturally and spatially while providing easy access to a café, an event space, both permanent galleries, and traveling exhibitions.

The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum
WHERE: Miami
THE GOAL: Natural lighting
STATUS: In progress; opens November 29, 2008
Florida International University,
University Park, 10975
Southwest 17th Street
Tuesday through Friday: 10 a.m. to five p.m.
Saturday: Noon to five p.m.
Closed Monday
*Note: The museum gallery is not open during the preparation period for exhibitions.

Founded as Florida International University’s student gallery in 1977, this museum has an eclectic collection boasting ancient Asian and African art, twentieth-century sculptures and paintings, 1960s-era prints, and significant photographic works. Though it’s affiliated with the Smithsonian and considered a key cultural hot spot, the museum never enjoyed adequate space and operated from a poorly lit administration building. Thus, Weymouth and company designed a freestanding structure from scratch. Opening at the end of this month, a $19 million, 46,000-square-foot arts haven will sit in the heart of the campus along the Avenue of the Arts. Most intriguing, this will be the first museum in Florida to follow the lead of European galleries and utilize natural lighting -- that was a goal driven by the fact that the works were composed in, and meant to be viewed by, nature’s illumination. Embracing South Florida’s best-known resource, sunlight, the architects created a series of skylights covered with an array of movable organic-looking petals. The design scatters daylight in small doses to display walls in a way that satisfies museum-quality conservation standards while also allowing spectators to view paintings as they have never been seen: suffused with natural light. Complementing the artistry of the skylight design, a three-story glass-atrium entrance soars toward the sky, a suspended staircase inside cuts through the air, and a heavy facing of glittery, silvery granite covers the exterior. The building also features an auditorium, a café, and a museum shop.

The Salvador Dalí Museum
WHERE: St. Petersburg
THE GOAL: Protection and a Dalí aesthetic
STATUS: In progress, opens 2010
1000 Third Street South,
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday:
9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Thursday: 9:30 a.m. to eight p.m.
Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 5:30 p.m.
Adults: $15
Seniors, military, and police: $13.50
Students: $10
Children: $4
Children under four: free
**Thursday, five p.m. to eight p.m.: $5

Unexpected and enigmatic in form -- like Salvador Dalí’s work itself -- the new Salvador Dalí Museum is a structural metaphor for the thought-provoking works housed within. Oil paintings, drawings, graphics, and watercolors created between 1917 and 1970, including examples of impressionism, cubism, the abstract, and surrealism, make up the bulk of the museum’s Dalí collection, which is the most comprehensive in the world. Perhaps as an ode to Dalí’s most famous artistic articulation, surrealism, the building itself is a sterile white box topped with a rounded glass structure that strikes a vivid organic contrast. The inside offers a superb structural canvas to show off Dalí’s brazen strokes and colors. Paying homage to Dalí’s philosophical interest in the rational world and the intuitive one, the rounded glass shape opens to the sky and the bay . Weymouth describes the building as a “treasure box” designed to protect the collection from Florida’s sometimes ferocious weather. Addressing the potential risk of hurricane and flood damage, he’s placing the priceless collection on the third floor -- well above a hurricane storm-surge level. Below that will be a grand public entrance, a museum shop, a library, a theater, and an eatery. Note: The current Dalí Museum is the most visited museum in the Southeast, and until this structure is completed, Dalí’s works can be viewed at the old location (1000 Third Street South).