Challenges at the BMA New director: After era of great growth, art museum must reduce reliance on government.

October 26, 1997

DOREEN BOLGER, who takes over as executive director of the Baltimore Museum of Art early next year, comes with formidable experience and credentials. She will be running an institution catering to diverse tastes and communities that has grown steadily for two decades and now boasts 11,000 members, some 320,000 visitors in the past year, some 150 employees on a budget of $9 million and an endowment of $51 million.

Her greatest challenge will be to reduce the museum's dependence on government funding, which is already diminishing. Federal and municipal support are plummeting. Only the state held steady and that will be at stake in next year's election. Neighboring county substitutions for city support have not been as generous as had been hoped. Cultural institutions were political footballs in the budget battles between Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council and took hits this year. Although the BMA has outgrown its origins as an arm of municipal government, prudence and the need to expand hours dictate further efforts.

Ms. Bolger will bring more formidable credentials than her two immediate predecessors. Arnold Lehman was 34 when he took the post in 1979; Tom L. Freudenheim was 33 in 1971. Neither of them was a giant of the museum world, yet each became a major figure here, and left for larger things. It is a tribute to their achievements that the BMA, this time, could attract a museum professional of Doreen Bolger's stature, at 48 already the director for four years of Rhode Island's major museum, and for many years a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Ms. Bolger's scholarly specialty in 19th century representational art and in Amerian decorative arts reflects strengths of the BMA and two of its constituencies that may have felt under-attended-to by the museum's energies in contemporary art. But the BMA must remain pre-eminent in that field in Maryland, and it is worth noting that Ms. Bolger's current institution is part of one of the nation's most prestigious art schools, producing new artists and new art. That may help her to reconnect the BMA to artists in Maryland.

Mr. Lehman's resignation was announced in March. To have a successor chosen this soon after a national search reflects an efficient process and, one hopes, a smooth transition in one of Baltimore's most important institutions.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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