Museum mergers on the horizon? Bailout: Maryland Historical Society explores acquiring troubled City Life Museums.

April 06, 1997

THE FISCAL crunch that threatens to close the Baltimore City Life Museums shows that there are just too many local history museums with overlapping focus. The philanthropic and business communities simply cannot support all of them. For years, some experts have been predicting mergers and consolidations.

The Maryland Historical Society has scheduled a meeting Wednesday to explore whether it can help ease the City Life Museums' crisis. The society is particularly concerned that if City Life is forced to sell its collection of paintings by Rembrandt Peale, the works should remain in Maryland. But a number of other items also are on the agenda, including the possibility of merging the two institutions.

It is too early to tell whether a merger is feasible. But we commend the Maryland Historical Society for initiating these discussions. If it wants to, the society has the financial resources to resuscitate the failing City Life locations.

Indeed, the Maryland Historical Society has done an impressive job of increasing its endowment. Just three years ago, that nest egg totaled $12.5 million; it should top $20 million by July 1. Sound finances have enabled the society to expand at its current Mount Vernon location. Some board members see joint operations with City Life as another opportunity.

We encourage these explorations as long as they do not endanger the gains the historical society has made it recent years.

The society's stewardship of City Life could strengthen the museum district that is developing near the Inner Harbor. Already there, in addition to City Life, are the Jewish Museum of Maryland, which is expanding, and the city Public Works Museum. The Baltimore Civil War Museum will open next Saturday. The Port Discovery children's museum will open its doors in November, 1998. An African-American museum is on the drawing board.

If all these happen, and the Flag House public high-rise complex is demolished as planned, both sides of the Fallsway near Little Italy could be in for a revival. For that reason alone, helping City Life could pay off handsomely.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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