Big plans address 'great necessity' Educator leads effort to create Heritage Museum of Art

August 14, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Stephen X. Lee admits he's undertaking "a great challenge." fTC But he remains undaunted, he'll tell you, because creating a museum to showcase minority art and culture is "a great necessity."

And, if all goes according to plan, that challenge will be met by the end of next year.

Lee, a Baltimore-born art educator and curator, is leading an effort to create the Heritage Museum of Art, dedicated to African, African-American, American Indian, Latin American and West Indian cultures. So far, he says, the project has a board of directors, $50,000 raised and a detailed facility plan calling for 12 gallery spaces, a library, auditorium and sculpture gallery.

This fall, he and associates on the project will launch a $3 million fund drive for the museum and develop a building proposal for the now-empty Pier 4 Power Plant, or another Inner Harbor location, to present to the city.

David Gillece, president of Center City-Inner Harbor Development, the downtown development agency, said discussions have been held with Mr. Lee about the Power Plant but that a formal proposal has not been received.

City Councilwoman Iris Reeves, D-5th, a member of the Heritage Museum's board, said the Power Plant might seem "a bit ambitious," but added that "I think Steve Lee and other members of the board feel this should be a first-class operation." Perhaps, she said, "some smaller pieces [of the Power Plant] could be a starting point and as the collection and other activities grow it could be expanded."

She said she thought the city would be willing to help find a location that is ethnically "somewhat neutral, such as the Inner Harbor, rather than submerged in any particular neighborhood."

Mr. Lee, a graduate of Howard University and the Pratt Institute, was a teacher at the University of Maryland and other area colleges and for 2 1/2 years assistant curator at City Hall before leaving in February to concentrate on the museum.

The museum, he said yesterday, will be "international in scope but with a strong community component," including a gallery for showing local artists and a children's gallery in addition to permanent exhibition spaces for each part of the collection and a library which would serve as an information and resource center open to the public.

He hopes the museum would include "the most ancient to the most contemporary art," but declined to go into specifics about its collection, other than that he expects it will be aided by the Maryland Museum of African Art in Columbia and the Baltimore American Indian Center. In addition, he said collector Jackie Lanier will donate documents, memorabilia, books and other materials.

Ideally, Mr. Lee said, he would like to have a space settled on by January, and hopes to open the museum before the end of 1992. To do so, he plans to raise $1 million from a "grass roots campaign," $1 million from foundations nationally, and hopes to get another $1 million from a state bond bill he expects to be introduced next year.

Delegate Frank D. Boston, D-41st, called the museum "a greaidea" and said he has asked the legislative reference department to draft a bond bill that would support Mr. Lee's request, though he doesn't think $1 million is "realistic."

How much would be sought, he said, depends on othecommitments the museum can get. "If there were a commitment in terms of the Power Plant that would go a long way."

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