BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - More than 600 people enjoyed free or discounted admission to the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum on Labor Day. One man has a vision to draw even more visitors to the Biloxi attraction.
Kevin O'Brien is the new executive director of the museum. He started his new job on Labor Day. O'Brien said the museum has the potential to attract more visitors year round and become one of the most prominent museums in the country.
Many visitors spent Labor Day getting their first glimpse inside the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art.
"It's very beautiful, very nice, very clean. I like the architecture," said Ryan Hess of Miami, Florida.
They took advantage of the free admission for Mississippians and half-off prices for out-of-state guests.
"I've always seen it from the highway, never been by here," said Latasha Metcalfe of Biloxi. "I guess I've never really known what this place was. I mean, it looks really nice from the highway passing by, but not really knowing what this building was and what's in it, actually."
That's one impression of the attraction Kevin O'Brien would like to change. As the museum's new executive director, O'Brien wants to improve the appearance of the campus by providing better access to the property and enhancing the landscaping.
"We still look like a construction site in certain areas. We want a more welcome presence so people can really identify us as being a museum designed by a nationally-acclaimed architect and a very important artist on the inside too," said O'Brien.
And to draw more visitors, O'Brien wants to offer exhibits and programs that appeal to a more diverse audience, including minorities, children, and groups with different interests.
"We have a very diverse community here in Biloxi. We have Vietnamese folks, we have Hispanics, we have the African American community," said O'Brien. "I want to bring in exhibits that may be as varied as in an exhibit on guitars, motorcycles, all sorts of other things that you normally wouldn't see. I can also do things like holography, technological exhibits, really enter a wide spectrum to interest a lot of different people."
"You've got to bring people in here and that's one thing that struck me was here's a campus that should be visited by a lot more people and we need people to survive and be relevant," he added.
O'Brien plans to reach out to schools, churches and businesses to seek input on expanding programs and getting the word out about the Mad Potter.
"He's very famous, so I want to really take advantage of that and bring him into the national spotlight here in Biloxi," said O'Brien. "I want to really make this an organization of national prominence, that is, among some of the most important museums in the nation. I'm especially excited to be here. This is a great opportunity."
O'Brien also talked about seeking financial support from more sponsors and foundations to fund the operation of the museum and to finish the final three pods.
Last year, about 13,500 people visited the museum. So far this year, the museum is on track to surpass that number.