Historical Society may save museums Officials speculate move could lead to merger of institutions

April 04, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore is offering its help to save the financially strapped City Life Museums, and some speculate that the move could lead to a merger of the two organizations.

Society staff and top City Life Museums officials are to meet privately next week, said Dennis Fiori, the society's executive director.

He said that the talks could range from co-sponsoring programs to a merger.

"Anything is possible," Fiori said yesterday. "If [merger] comes out of a discussion, I think that's something to talk about."

Sally Zinno, interim executive director of City Life Museums, said yesterday that though she has not discussed a merger with Fiori, she wouldn't rule out the possibility.

"We would like to talk about whether there are any ways we can work together," Zinno said.

Employees at City Life Museums and the Historical Society are quietly talking among themselves about what a merger could mean for both institutions.

City Life Museums could benefit by combining its financially failing operation with the popular and successful Historical Society. The society could benefit by gaining control of City Life Museums' Baltimore memorabilia and collections.

Fiori said he doesn't know enough about City Life Museums' administration to determine whether a merger would work.

But after an initial review, he said that the institutions could benefit from having one business office, one senior administrative staff and one curatorial staff.

Also, it would benefit City Life Museums to become part of a large, healthy organization, Fiori said.

After spending months trying to get out from under increasing debt, City Life Museums, home to Nipper the dog, the famous 14-foot RCA mascot, was thrown a temporary lifeline by a reluctant Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Last month, Schmoke agreed to give the museum $500,000 this year and next year to cover operating expenses if the museum can raise an equal amount.

But the subsidy isn't enough to keep the museum from going under, and the museum's officials are soliciting private donations.

The museum's inability to attract private funds is at the root of its financial problems.

Thirteen employees have been laid off, leaving only 19 full-time staff members.

Hours have been scaled back at the nine-site museum, and one location, the Shot Tower on Fayette Street, has been closed indefinitely.

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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