Drawing urban families to art Major grant: BMA gets $1.18 million to increase its efforts to reach out to the community.

November 14, 1995|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Museum of Art has been awarded the largest grant in its 81-year history for education and community outreach -- $1.18 million from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, according to museum director Arnold L. Lehman, who announced the award yesterday.

The five-year grant targets Baltimore families and is designed to broaden programs aimed at increasing participation among the city's African-American residents, particularly families living in federal empowerment zones.

The grant will fund a museum program called "Visualize a Future: Empowering Baltimore's Families through Youth." It is one of four awards totaling $4.8 million announced yesterday to help fine arts museums across the country expand and diversify their audiences, according to Christine DeVita, president of the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.

"By reaching out to the people in their communities, museums are demonstrating the relevance of their collections to people from all walks of life," Ms. DeVita said. "When people can appreciate the significance that an institution and its artwork have to their daily lives, they are likely to return."

The largest grant previously awarded the museum for education and community outreach was a $400,000 award from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1990 to support the museum's "Close Encounters" program. The new grant will build on those efforts.

The Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund grant will support a family center, community art lab and audio tours that will highlight the museum's modern, African and American art collections.

Part of the money will be used to operate an "art shuttle" to transport youth groups to the museum and to sponsor residencies by local and visiting artists. The grant also will enable the museum to offer workshops for parents and grandparents to create art with their children, and to expand its junior docent program. The new programs will work with local community organizations and the region's African-American business community.

" 'Visualize a Future' is rooted in building stronger partnerships with existing community-based organizations to bring art and art-making experiences to Baltimore youth and their families by means of off-site and on-site activities," Mr. Lehman said. "We are very grateful to the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund for this wonderful opportunity."

The museum's focus will be to expand the museum's audience in the city, though Mr. Lehman declined to set specific numerical goals. Last year some 312,000 people visited the museum, about a third of them from Baltimore.

"What we are talking about is a long-range engagement with children and their families to make the museum part of their lives," Mr. Lehman said. "We're less focused on the exact numbers than on building ongoing relationships with the people in our communities."

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke praised the museum's outreach efforts as models for the city's economic revitalization. "Federal/city partnerships such as Baltimore's Empowerment Zone and public/private partnerships such as this new initiative by the Baltimore Museum of Art are the cornerstones for new growth and new hope for our city," he said.

One of the city's five major nonprofit arts institutions, the Baltimore Museum of Art has a budget of $9 million this year. In 1994 it opened the New Wing for Modern Art at a cost of $10 million.

The BMA was one of four museums nationally to receive a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund grant this year. The other recipients were: the Cleveland Museum of Art, which got $1.25 million; the Milwaukee Art Museum, $1.14 million; and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, which received $1.25 million.

The grants were made as part of the fund's Museum Collections Accessibility Program, which since 1991 has helped 19 other fine arts museums across the country develop exhibitions, education programs and marketing strategies to attract new audiences and cultivate repeat visits. The new grants bring the fund's total investment in the program to $27 million.

In 1993, the fund awarded a $1.4 million grant to Baltimore's Center Stage theater to expand programs aimed at developing younger, more diversified audiences. That award was part of a $28 million audience development program aimed at 43 theaters across the country.

The Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund invests in programs that enhance the cultural life of communities and encourage people to make the arts and culture an active part of their lives. The fund supports efforts to build audiences for the performing, visual, literary and folk arts as well as supporting programs to improve literacy instruction for adults and the creation and expansion of urban parks.

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