Hopkins' decision threatens tours of Evergreen House Director's job eliminated by cost-cutting measures

June 02, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

In a move that could reduce public access to historic Evergreen House, the Johns Hopkins University will eliminate on July 1 its department of collections.

The department has charge of both Evergreen, at 4545 N. Charles St., and Homewood House, which is on the Hopkins campus about one mile south.

The move will eliminate the position of the department's director, Susan Tripp, who oversaw the restorations of the two mansions in recent years. Evergreen, a gift to Hopkins from the Garrett family, was reopened last year after a $4.5 million refurbishment.

Ross Jones, vice president and secretary of the university, said Friday that cost-cutting efforts spurred the change. He declined to speculate that the house will be used less for public tours, but noted that the university wants Evergreen to be used more for "seminars, lectures, cultural events, receptions and so forth. We would like that to be the major activity there."

However, in a letter sent to Evergreen volunteers last week, Ms. Tripp said, "Within the next several months we expect a significant change in the university's function at Evergreen, with a reduction in tours available to the public. . . ."

The letter was co-signed by Frances Lloyd, director of the Evergreen House Foundation, an organization that contributes to support of the house. According to Ms. Lloyd, tours have been "averaging over 1,000 a month" at Evergreen since the house reopened.

In another letter sent last week to advisory councils of both Evergreen and Homewood houses, Foundation president Aurelia Bolton spoke of the collections department as "a luxury [the university believes it] cannot justify or afford."

Mr. Jones said the house costs about $500,000 to operate annually -- about $200,000 of which is contributed by the foundation, the rest by the university. He would not speculate on how much the planned changes would reduce the budget.

Hopkins has faced a financial crisis in its arts and sciences division over the past several years and has struggled with its support of radio station WJHU-FM and the Peabody Institute.

Mr. Jones said that changes at Evergreen would not affect its rare book library, which is operated under the Hopkins library system.

Under the reorganization, Ms. Tripp's position and that of Ms. Lloyd's would be merged. While Ms. Tripp had overseen both Evergreen and Homewood, Mr. Jones said a new director would be appointed to oversee the latter, where tours will not be affected. He said other cutbacks are also possible on the Evergreen staff, which currently consists of seven full-time and several part-time employees, according to Ms. Lloyd.

Ms. Tripp said Friday that the elimination of her job was "a shoc to me." She said she is seeking a job in the art world but as yet has no plans.

Stiles Colwill, a member of the Evergreen advisory council, said it is "a slap in the face to Susan to do years and years of restoration work and basically have her job eliminated." To use the house primarily as a conference center rather than a %J museum, he said, would be "not at all what I think we were led to believe was going to happen. I have a real sense of betrayal by Hopkins University."

Ms. Bolton, a Hopkins trustee as well as president of the Evergreen House Foundation, said she understood the university's need to reduce expenditures. But she said that while operating the two houses independently will effect budget cuts, their joint ability to attract funding "is compromised. I think we've cut off our nose to spite our face."

Evergreen was originally built in the 1850s and extensively enlarged by the Garrett family in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Diplomat John Work Garrett, the last family owner, left the house to Hopkins at his death in 1942, and his wife, Alice W. Garrett, established the Evergreen House Foundation to help support it.

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